Scheifele’s hat trick ends slump

Jets back in win column, but holding breath after Morrissey takes big hit late in game


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The Winnipeg Jets have been hearing footsteps lately, as a pack of Western Conference rivals try to catch the slumping, shorthanded squad.

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The Winnipeg Jets have been hearing footsteps lately, as a pack of Western Conference rivals try to catch the slumping, shorthanded squad.

They managed to block out the noise on Thursday night, rallying for an important 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, who happen to be one of those hard-charging opponents.

Mark Scheifele’s seventh career hat trick, and second of the season, came at a clutch time as the Jets snapped a season-long three-game losing skid. Pierre-Luc Dubois also scored on a second period penalty shot that brought a sold-out crowd at Canada Life Centre to their feet.

Winnipeg improves to 22-13-1 and remains in second place in the Central Division. Vancouver had its three-game winning streak (and seven-game run on the road) come to a halt, falling to 16-16-3.

The victory may have come with a significant cost, however. Let’s keep our collective heads up as we dive deep into this one:

1) A Jets team already without seven regulars due to injury finished the night without its leading scorer.

Defenceman Josh Morrissey was shaken up after a huge third period hit from former teammate Tyler Myers. He immediately went down the tunnel, returned a few minutes later and took a cautious twirl during a television timeout, then returned to the room shortly after.

“There’s a little bit of a lower body injury. He didn’t come back. He’ll be treated (Friday). We’re hopeful that he’ll play Saturday,” was the extent of the post-game update from coach Rick Bowness.

Morrissey has a career-best 42 points through 36 games, which included assists on Scheifele’s first two goals Thursday. An extended absence of their co-MVP (Connor Hellebuyck would be the other) would be devastating, to say the least.

2) The end result was what they wanted. But what to make of a first period that might have been one of the worst of the season?

After consecutive losses to Boston, Washington and Minnesota, the Jets didn’t come out like a team desperate to reverse the recent trend. Quite the opposite, actually.

The opening shift was the stuff of nightmares, with young defenceman Dylan Samberg making an egregious giveaway from behind his net, putting the put squarely on the stick of Elias Pettersson. The Canucks sniper quickly found linemate Andrei Kuzmenko for the one-timer and a 1-0 lead for the visitors just 41 seconds into the game.

The Jets were shaky for the whole frame, not even registering their first shot until nearly 12 minutes had expired. Hellebuyck and a crucial penalty kill off a Morgan Barron minor kept the deficit from growing larger.

“I think that early goal against kind of set us on our heels a little bit. And that team has been playing really well lately so they were feeling it,” said Bowness.

3) So did Bowness peel the paint off the walls during the first intermission? Because the Jets looked like a completely different team in the second period, outshooting the Canucks 20-6 and outscoring them 3-0.

“When we started moving our feet on the forecheck, plays open up. That’s cliche, but it’s true. We got our feet going,” said Dubois.

Special teams were the big story.

After finally earning a power play with those quick feet, the Jets made the Canucks pay as Scheifele tipped a Morrissey point shot for his team-leading 21st of the year at 13:25. Then came a Dubois power move, which forced Vancouver blue-liner Ethan Bear to haul him down on a breakaway. He ripped a beautiful shot past Collin Delia for his 17th of the year at 15:42.

“I was so tired, all I could think of was just breathe a little bit and then I saw him (the referee) point to the dot,” Dubois said of the play. “When I was a kid I never scored on penalty shots, breakaways or shootouts. So yeah, I haven’t had a penalty shot in the NHL, that’s for sure. Probably not in junior either.”

Winnipeg went back to the power play late in the frame, and Scheifele beat the buzzer when he wired a wrister with 2.5 seconds left. It turned out to be the game-winner.

“I think we just didn’t let it get to us too much,” Scheifele said of turning things around. “It was was one play, there was a lot of game left, so we just kept on building and capitalizing when we had the chance.”

4) Winnipeg continued to control play in the third period, with numerous glorious chances to extend the lead. Dubois, Kyle Connor and Kevin Stenlund were all denied by Delia, and you wondered if that would come back to bite them when Connor Garland banked a shot in off Hellebuyck with 6:49 left to play.

Fortunately, the Jets didn’t panic or implode, and Scheifele sealed the deal with an empty-netter after a great hustle play by Adam Lowry. Scheifele’s parents were in the crowd to see hats raining down on the ice.

“I know they were pretty jacked up for that one for sure, so it was awesome to have them in for Christmas. It’s always awesome having them in the stands watching. It definitely puts a smile on my face,” he said.

5) The other big story of the night was veteran forward Sam Gagner playing his 1,000th regular-season game.

Prior to puck drop, he was joined on the ice by his wife, Rachel, their three young children and his parents. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff presented Gagner with a customized portrait showing him in the uniforms of all seven teams he’s played for. He also got a silver stick to commemorate the milestone. (His kids got their own mini versions).

“Listen, congrats to him. How many guys have played 1000 games? (375 now) How many of those guys have gone to the minors and come back? Not very many of them,” said Bowness.

“A lot of guys have quit or retired or moved on. So you give him a lot of credit for going back to the minors for a couple stints and still persevering. It’s a major tribute to his character and his love of the game. You’ve got to love that.”

There were also video messages from several former teammates including Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Andrew Cogliano, Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and Marc Staal.

“This organization since I’ve been here is first class,” said Bowness. “They do everything right. I’m very impressed with this organization with everything they do. And tonight was a great night for Sam and his family and recognition of what he’s done. The organization deserves a lot of credit for being first class and doing it right.”

UP NEXT: The Jets travel to Edmonton for a New Year’s Eve date with McDavid and company.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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