Just what they needed
Jets get ugly win and 2 points
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SUNRISE, Fla. — When it comes to the NHL standings, they don’t ask how. Just how many. And the answer for the Winnipeg Jets as of late hasn’t been nearly good enough. A season that started with so much promise was starting to slip away.
And while Saturday’s wild affair here in sizzling south Florida doesn’t cure all that has recently been ailing them — nor will the way the Jets played at times put everyone’s concerns at ease — a 5-4 overtime victory over the Panthers was exactly what was needed.
“We’ll take a win anytime we can get it, any way we can get it,” a clearly relieved coach Rick Bowness said outside the team’s dressing room at FLA Live Arena.
Mark Scheifele’s second goal of the night was the difference, coming with just 29 seconds left in a back-and-forth three-on-three skills session that had glorious chances at both ends of the ice.
“Sometimes God just has a way of challenging you and He challenged this group tonight,” said Scheifele. “It was a big win and that’s just the way the game of hockey works and now we’ve just got to go on to the next one.”
It was just Winnipeg’s third victory in the last 12 games. They are now 37-26-3 and continue to hold down the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. They have a six-point cushion over Calgary and Nashville. The Jets and Flames have 16 games left, while the Predators have 19.
We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t delve into the “how,” and there’s plenty to discuss from this one.
1. Yes, the two points were a relief. But they may have come with a heavy cost. Defenceman Josh Morrissey appeared to suffer a hip injury late in the second period. He disappeared off the bench, but was back to start the third, played one quick shift and then was ruled out for the remainder.
Later in the final frame, shutdown centre Adam Lowry suffered a lower-body ailment of some kind and was done for the night.
Bowness said further evaluation is needed, but both players are “very very doubtful” to play Sunday in Tampa Bay. The Jets are already without injured forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cole Perfetti.
“That’s just the way it goes for us,” said Morrissey’s blue-line partner, Dylan DeMelo. “The next-man-up mentality, you’ve got to find a way to persevere. And guys stepped up and made plays. We found a way tonight and hopefully those guys aren’t out too long.”
2. The Jets got the hot start they were looking for, with Scheifele opening the scoring on the power play at 6:43 of the first period. It came on a terrific play where all five skaters on the ice touched the puck, with Morrissey passing to Nikolaj Ehlers, who gave it to Kyle Connor, who found Blake Wheeler, who fed Scheifele.
Ehlers made it 2-0 at 15:03, scoring just his sixth of the year. It was set-up by the two trade deadline additions, Nino Niederreiter and Vlad Namestnikov.
Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk cut the deficit in half with a power play marker at 16:44, but Namestnikov restored the two-goal lead when he sniped his first as a member of the Jets at 19:07 with his team on the power play.
Sam Reinhart made it a 3-2 game at 4:09 of the second, but Namestnikov struck again at 12:59.
Off to the third period they went, and that’s when things really started to unravel.
3. Morrissey’s night ended. Lowry’s quickly followed. And Marc Staal (33 seconds) and Tkachuk (6:24) got it back on even terms.
Despite playing the night before against Chicago, Florida had all the energy and momentum. And Winnipeg was hanging on for dear life.
“I think a lot of our problems were self-inflicted with puck management. That really hurt us,” said Bowness.
“We spent some unnecessary time in our zone. The good news is we scored the five goals, which was huge. The power play looked good. The puck went in the net for us. We probably played better the last two games and lost.”
Fortunately Connor Hellebuyck stood tall in net, ultimately stopping 44 of 48 shots he faced. And, fortunately, Scheifele saved the day with his overtime snipe.
“It was scrambly out there for both teams,” said Bowness.
4. The game was not without controversy.
In the first period, Connor — the reigning Lady Byng Trophy winner — was given a five-minute slashing major after a run-in with Florida defenceman Aaron Ekblad, who crumpled to the ice and appeared injured.
Fortunately for the Jets, the NHL now has video review of all major penalties, and that showed it was just a slight, rather routine chop to the leg. It was reduced to a two-minute penalty.
Connor, by the way, can kiss his hopes of a repeat goodbye. He had two minors all of last year. He’s now up to eight this season.
In the third period, Scheifele was assessed a major during a puck race with Panthers defenceman Gustav Forsling that ended violently. In real time, there appeared to be some contact between the two, with Forsling crashing hard into the boards and a melee ensuing. On replay, it showed that Forsling simply lost his balance and wiped out.
The penalty was taken completely off the board.
“A very good thing. I don’t quite understand the process, how it happens, but (I’m) obviously glad that it’s in place, they were able to look at it, and change them,” said Scheifele.
A few years ago, there would have been no grounds to overturn the initial calls. But a huge blown play in a playoff game involving Vegas and San Jose brought replay in as an additional tool.
“Those are game-changers, right?” said DeMelo.
“Unfortunate that Forsling went hard into the boards there. I think it was just fortunate with the speed that both of those guys were going at. KC’s was obviously not even close to being a five-minute, let alone a two-minute. Obviously close. Those were huge moments. Glad they worked out for us.”
5. Back to Scheifele, who has now tied his career-high with 38 goals on the year. That’s the same number he scored over 82 games in 2018-19.
“We were just talking about him (in the coach’s room) and the defensive play at the end of the game, behind the net, battling as hard as he did. He had an outstanding game on both sides of the puck,” said Bowness.
The Jets have had trouble generating offence lately, so this game is a step in the right direction. Ehlers had two assists to go with his goal. Connor had three helpers. Wheeler had a pair. And the two new additions in Niederreiter and Namestnikov are producing as well.
“It’s funny, right? It’s quite obvious they took it to us there for large stretches and we find a way to win,” said DeMelo.
“The last two games, we were on the other end of that. I think we just did a good job of finding a way to win.”
UP NEXT: The Jets will keep trying to find ways to win as the road trip continues. They play Sunday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, then wrap up on Tuesday in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“We’ll take that win, try to build on it and correct the things that caused us problems,” said Bowness.
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.
Updated on Sunday, March 12, 2023 9:35 AM CDT: Updates Predators' game details