Jets shoot to win in goal-fest
Snap five-game losing skid
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It wasn’t for the faint of heart. But the Winnipeg Jets managed to hold on for dear life during a wild roller-coaster ride and grab a pair of valuable points on Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
A 7-5 victory at a sold-out Canada Life Centre will go down as one of the more entertaining games of the season, hearkening back to the 1980s when the two Smythe Division rivals engaged in numerous thrilling, wide-open battles.
It was also one of the most important for the home side, which had lost five straight games.
“I think it’s just a mindset,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey, who led the way offensively with two goals and an assist. “I thought we competed and brought the intensity and played on our toes.”
Winnipeg improves to 36-25-2 and jumps back into third place in the Central Division with 19 regular-season games remaining. Edmonton falls to 34-22-8 and continue to occupy fourth place in the Pacific Division and the first wildcard spot in the jam-packed Western Conference.
There was enough action in this one to make your head spin. Let’s look at some of the highlights:
1. On Friday night, the Jets talked about staying out of the penalty box before facing the Oilers at Rogers Place. Then Kyle Connor took a tripping minor 79 seconds into the game, and Leon Draisaitl quickly scored to give his team a quick lead. The Jets never recovered, ultimately falling 6-3.
On Saturday, it was Blake Wheeler whistled for holding 90 seconds into the rematch. Draisaitl had the visitors up 1-0 just 13 seconds later.
“It’s like, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry.
Give credit to Winnipeg for quickly brushing off the unfortunate start. Mark Scheifele tipped home a Dylan DeMelo shot at 11:34 of the first period for his team-leading 36th of the year. And then Morrissey, as he’s done so often this year, picked the perfect time for a big goal when his floater from the blue-line deflected off an Edmonton defenceman at 15:09.
“(Scheifele) gets a really good tip and the (Morrissey) shot had some eyes and all of the sudden we were able to flip the script,” said Lowry.
2. The game really entered warp speed in the second period, when the goals started coming fast and furious. A combined seven in total, with (4-3 for Winnipeg).
Mattias Janmark tied it at 2:57 when he converted on a shorthanded two-on-one rush after some sloppy puck management by Winnipeg. Then Draisaitl gave Edmonton the lead once again at 6:12, scoring his 40th of the year off a backhand.
Another serving of obstacles and adversity for a fragile Jets group.
But then came a massive goal from Lowry, who hadn’t scored since Dec. 11 – a nightmare streak of 35 games. He deflected a Morgan Barron shot just 42 seconds after his team fell behind to make it 3-3.
“Honestly, it was huge. The longer that thing goes on, the more you think about it and the more ways it just starts affecting other parts of your game,” said Lowry.
Little-used defenceman Kyle Capobianco put Winnipeg back in front just 22 seconds later, scoring his second of the year. But Draisaitl completed the hat trick at 9:18, tapping home a Connor McDavid pass on the power play.
Back came Winnipeg, as Barron snapped his personal 20-game scoring slump when Morrissey sprung him on a breakaway at 10:45.
For those of you scoring at home, that was five combined goals in a 4:33 span.
“(Jets backup goalie David Rittich) looked at me at one point and he goes, ‘This might be 10-8.’” Lowry said of the offensive explosion.
“And I go, ‘I certainly hope not.’ It’s one of those ones where it’s two fast teams, two teams that are really good in transition. They got a couple of guys are among the best in the world, the best player in the world, and Leon, who is in the conversation as well. It’s tough to shut them down, and they got a great power play. Fortunately, we were able to score more goals than they did.”
3. The key point of the game came late in the second, when Saku Maenalanen crushed McDavid with a clean hit. Edmonton defenceman Darnell Nurse took exception, challenging the Jets winger to fight. Lowry then stepped in to answer the bell, and both players dropped their gloves for a spirited scrap.
“That’s the type of team we have. We stick up for each other,” said Jets coach Rick Bowness. “We keep saying they go after one of us, they go after all of us. I thought that was a great hit. It was a clean hit, nothing wrong with that. Once again, you throw a clean hit today in the NHL and someone’s got to get into a fight for some reason.”
Nurse got an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Jets made the Oilers pay when Morrissey struck again with two seconds left in the middle frame.
His 15th of the year extended the lead to 6-4 and would ultimately be the game-winner.
“Saku was a gritty player for us and he makes a nice check on the best player in the world. They respond, which I understand, but it draws us a power play and we get rewarded with a last-second goal,” said Lowry.
“That’s just kind of the mindset that we came in to that game with, that compete level. Saku, that goal doesn’t happen without him making that play. It’s nice to get rewarded with that goal, specifically for the play that drew the penalty.”
4. Edmonton didn’t go away quietly, as Nick Bjugstad scored at 2:55 of the third period to once again make it a one-goal game.
But that’s when Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck took over. He was, quite simply, brilliant from that point on, with no shortage of stellar stops .
“A ton of really key saves for us,” said Lowry. “He smothered the puck and was able to get us to get some faceoffs and line changes. He gives up five but I think he played another great game for us.”
DeMelo then sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with 35 seconds remaining.
Hellebuyck finished with 30 saves on 35 shots. Edmonton starter Jack Campbell turned aside 32 of 38 pucks he faced.
5. Bowness shuffled his lineup for this one, with the biggest move being a healthy scratch of veteran defenceman Nate Schmidt. Logan Stanley, who also played in Friday’s loss in Edmonton, was also given press box duty.
“Obviously you feel for Schmitty and it’s a tough part of the game, but you have to respond and come out and clearly Bones is sending a message with that,” said Morrissey.
Capobianco and Dylan Samberg took their spots. Up front, Vladislav Namestnikov made his Winnipeg debut after being obtained a day earlier in a trade with San Jose. Karson Kuhlman was scratched, along with Sam Gagner. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mason Appleton missed a third straight game with injuries.
“Very happy with the response from the team to how we played (Friday) night,” said Bowness. “We had to make some lineup changes, and I thought the whole team responded very well.”
UP NEXT: The Jets continue the homestand by hosting the San Jose Sharks on Monday night.
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.