Put away the pitchforks
Jets still showing some fire with win over Bolts
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TAMPA BAY — Put down those pitchforks. Hold off on the obituary. There appears to be plenty of fight left in these Winnipeg Jets.
Down, but clearly not out, the hockey club managed what is an extremely big ask for any NHL outfit these days — sweeping a weekend series in the state of Florida.
Two impressive, hard-fought victories over the Panthers (5-4 in overtime Saturday night) and the Lightning (3-2 on Sunday night) have turned plenty of frowns upside-down.
“It’s huge,” associate coach Scott Arniel said outside the club’s locker room at Amalie Arena. “You know, it’s a real desperate time for us for points. We have to keep pace with everybody in our division and our conference. We knew it was going to be a tough trip. And so far, it’s off to a great start.”
Winnipeg hit the road having just won two of 11 games and with a daunting schedule that had many fans and pundits wondering if things might actually get worse. Instead, the Jets flipped the script in a 24-hour span.
“We know that we’ve gone through a tough spell here the last 10, 15 games, but we’re the ones who are going to have to get out of it. We’re going to have to find ways to win,” said defenceman Brenden Dillon.
“Injuries, we can’t use any excuses for us. (Sunday night), everybody stepped up. Our checkers checked, our offensive guys produced, and everyone just contributed whatever way they needed to do.”
Nate Schmidt, Nino Niederreiter and Morgan Barron scored for the visitors, who improve to 38-26-3 with 15 regular-season games remaining. Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli lit the lamp for Tampa Bay, who fall to 39-22-6.
There’s plenty of accolades to go around.
1. Three cheers for Connor Hellebuyck, whose game had struggled of late. He was given the back-to-back assignment, and responded with two stellar efforts.
A 44-save performance on Saturday in Sunrise, and a 33-stop effort on Sunday in Tampa. He also got some timely help from his posts, with Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman ringing iron in the dying seconds of the one-goal loss.
“He’s the best in the world for a reason,” said Barron. “He just sticks to his process and we have full faith in him. He made some huge saves for us down the stretch. Again, really good team, they have some confident shooters. But I’ll take Bucky before any of them.”
2. Three cheers for the penalty kill, which was torched for three goals on Saturday by the potent Panthers. They came up huge in this one, going three-for-three which included 62 seconds of a two-man advantage for the Lightning.
“Well I saw our goaltender make a couple big ones,” Arniel said of what worked so well.
“But at the end of the day we knew that they’re shooters and they’ve got a lot of different weapons. Everybody’s dangerous. It’s not like you can take one guy away or two guys away. It’s everybody who is a part of that. We tried not to get too far away from Helly and tried to get in and help on those rebounds.”
3. Three cheers for the third line. Barron, along with Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton, may have had their finest outing of the season.
They are the shutdown trio head coach Rick Bowness envisioned when the year began, but injuries to Appleton and Barron have meant limited time together.
Lowry was a question mark for this game, having suffered a lower-body ailment in the third period on Saturday, but declared himself fit to play. And they were a force.
“I thought we were solid. I don’t know about our best. I think there’s still a little more we can do,” said Barron.
“We created some chances and we held the zone defensively. They’re a good team so they’re going to create some chances. Honestly, I have a tough time evaluating until I watch the game over but I think we’re happy with it.”
4. Three cheers for a successful video review. Killorn and Schmidt had traded first period goals, and the Niederreiter (on the power play) gave Winnipeg its first lead early in the middle frame.
Then came the turning point, when Appleton set-up Dillon for a shot, and Barron buried the rebound at 9:04 of the second.
Tampa Bay challenged for goaltender interference, suggesting Dillon had impeded the ability of Lightning puckstopper Andrei Vasilevskiy. But it was ultimately upheld after a brief review.
“I mean, I’m right in my office there in the crease, where I usually am,” joked Dillon, who was playing in his 800th career game.
“I saw some replays on the bench. Those ones are pretty tough to overturn and you sometimes just never know how it’s going to go but it turns out to be the game winner and that’s awesome.”
5. Three cheers for resilience. The injury list, which once was as high as seven players earlier this year and recently got down to just one (Cole Perfetti), continues to grow. Pierre-Luc Dubois missed a third straight game with an upper-body injury, and All-Star defenceman Josh Morrissey had to sit this one out after suffering a lower-body ailment in Florida.
Dylan Samberg came into the lineup to take Morrissey’s spot, stepping right into a top pairing with Dylan DeMelo. They were excellent. And all of the blue-liners had their ice time increase to make up for Morrissey’s absence.
“It was by committee. We had to use everybody,” said Arniel.
“With back to back games, where Josh can log some big minutes, everybody had to be a part of it. I’m real proud of the guys. They did a really good job of clearing the front of the net. I know there were a lot of crazy situations that were going on at times. They kept their head. I liked the way we moved the puck up. We were quick and we didn’t allow extended times in our end of the rink. We played fast and that helped a lot for us get into Tampa’s end.”
UP NEXT: The Jets will have a chance to finish up a perfect road trip when they face Carolina on Tuesday. Although the Hurricanes sit on top of the Metropolitan Division, they lost two straight games this weekend by a combined score of 7-0 to the Vegas Golden Knights and New Jersey Devils. In other words, expect a surly opponent in Raleigh.
After that it’s a quick stop back home to face the NHL’s best team, the Boston Bruins, on Thursday at Canada Life Centre.
“We know all the points matter right now. And our schedule doesn’t get easier in the next two games,” said Barron.
“This is a big start for us. We know we have to start winning on the road. Take these two wins and hopefully get a third there on Tuesday.”
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.