Jets bust out big-time
Slumping team pumps in 6 goals on Red Wings
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And all was right in the Winnipeg Jets world. For at least one night, anyways.
A dominant 6-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in front of 14,389 spectators at Canada Life Centre on Friday was just what the doctor ordered for a sickly squad that had reached a critical stage in its season.
Sure, the opponent was a tired bunch, having played the night before (and beaten the Carolina Hurricanes). And, yes, the Red Wings are already into “next year” territory, far out out of the Eastern Conference playoff race and starting their third-string goalie. But the Jets can only play the schedule they’re handed, and they haven’t exactly fared well lately in games that, on paper, you’d expect them to win. For the latest example, see Tuesday’s 3-0 stinker in San Jose.
However, seemingly everything that could go well did go well in this one.
“Certainly been a rough stretch for us, so nice to see guys feel good on the ice tonight,” said veteran Jets winger Blake Wheeler.
Winnipeg, which limped into the game having won just seven of the past 21, improves to 42-31-3. That put them four points ahead of Calgary for the final Western Conference wildcard playoff spot, pending the outcome of the Flames game against the Vancouver Canucks which was still underway at press time. Detroit falls to 33-33-9.
“Obviously more of an example for how we want to play,” said coach Rick Bowness.
The key, of course, is to bottle up this formula and bring it to the final six regular-season contests. Let’s break down the recipe:
1) Bowness raised plenty of eyebrows the other night in San Jose when, following a second loss in the same month to one of the NHL’s worst teams, he suggested some of his top players are “dreaming” if they believe they’re giving everything they have.
Message sent. And, based on what went down, message received.
Kyle Connor opened the scoring at 6:56, just his second goal in the last 15 games and 29th of the year. Wheeler broke a 21-game scoring drought at 11:57, his 16th of the campaign. And the much-maligned Mark Scheifele, who was moved to the wing on a new-look top line with Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois, got his first in 10 games at 13:34 to set a new career-high of 39.
“I liked it. They’re both fantastic players and I really liked the look of it,” Scheifele said of re-locating from his usual position. “It’s different, for sure. I’ve played centre my whole life. It’s definitely an adjustment. But when you play with two good players like Dubie and K.C. it makes it easy.”
Scheifele, Connor and Wheeler also had assists on the night.
2) The scoring was infectious.
Defenceman Dylan DeMelo scored his career-best fifth of the year at 1:20 of the second, drawing gasps from the Winnipeg bench.
“That was a snipe. That was pretty incredible,” Nikolaj Ehlers said of the wicked wrister. “I think everyone was looking at each other going, ‘what the hell just happened?’. He’s such a great guy off the ice and works hard every game on the ice. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. What he does for this team is pretty huge. It’s exciting for us.”
Nino Niederreiter showed off his terrific net-front play by scooping home his 23rd at 13:42 of the middle frame, and Ehlers completed the offensive party at 5:07 of the third with his 10th of the year. DeMelo and Ehlers also had helpers, while Mason Appleton and Vladislav Namestnikov had two assists each.
The rout was on, with the Jets scoring more than three goals for the first time in 10 games.
3) Connor Hellebuyck, making his league-leading 59th start of the year and eighth consecutive, had a relatively quiet night at the office. Only a pair of third-period Detroit goals, 22 seconds apart, managed to beat him, with David Perron and Joe Veleno doing the damage.
He stopped 23 of 25 shots. There’s a good chance Hellebuyck might play the six remaining games, assuming there’s still a playoff spot at stake for the Jets.
At the other end of the ice, poor Magnus Hellberg was thrown to the wolves, especially during the first two periods when it was all Winnipeg. He ended up stopping 23 of 29 shots he faced.
“Obviously we had to get on them early, especially after being on back to back and travelling from Detroit. It was a great start,” said Scheifele. “We’re a tough team when we play like that, when we’re on our toes we make it hard to play against. That was a big one for us.”
4) The night certainly ended better than it began, with pre-game news that All-Star defenceman Josh Morrissey was out with an illness.
Logan Stanley took his spot in the lineup, and Bowness had to completely shuffled the defensive deck. Dylan Samberg moved up to the top pairing with DeMelo, while Neal Pionk and Brenden Dillon were on the second unit. Stanley skated with Nate Schmidt.
Winnipeg made one lineup change up front, with Karson Kuhlman replacing Saku Maenalanen on the fourth line.
5) Andrew Copp became a fan favourite during his time with the Jets. And the crowd gave him a rousing ovation during a first period TV timeout as a “Welcome Back” video played on the scoreboard.
Copp, 28, finally made his return to the city where his NHL career began, facing the Jets for the first time in Winnipeg since he was traded last season to the New York Rangers. He then signed a lucrative five-year, US $28.125 million contract with his hometown Red Wings last summer.
He was clearly touched by the trip down memory lane, tapping his glove to his heart in response to the cheers. Copp’s first year with the Red Wings hasn’t gone as smoothly as he’d like, with offseason abdominal surgery causing him to miss all of training camp. But he’s still managed a career-high 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists) in 75 games.
5) UP NEXT: The five-game homestand continues Sunday against the New Jersey Devils.
“It’s kind of one of the great things about pro sports, you get to persevere through tough times and come out on the other side and be better off for it,” said Wheeler. “I’m really proud of everyone, how were sticking together. You wouldn’t know it if you walked into our locker room that it’s been as rough as it’s been. But we’re feeling like if we can feel good about ourselves down the stretch, maybe we can make some noise.”
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 Saturday, April 1, 2023 9:03 AM CDT: Corrects Jets record