Jets take nail-biter from Lightning
Special teams the difference in intense battle with Eastern Conference powerhouse
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It was a game that had a bit of everything, with a roller-coaster ride of emotions that fans at a sold-out Canada Life Centre will no doubt remember for quite some time.
When the dust eventually settled Friday night at the downtown rink, the Winnipeg Jets skated away with a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Certainly from the drop of the puck until the end, the intensity was there. The intention is there and the heart is there and it’s in the right place,” said Jets coach Rick Bowness. “That was a hell of a hockey game. The fans got their money’s worth tonight.”
Winnipeg improves to 25-13-1 following a fourth consecutive victory and are now one point out of first place in the Central Division, with a game in hand on the Dallas Stars. Tampa falls to 24-13-1.
Take a deep breath, folks. There’s plenty of ground to cover from this one.
1 Winnipeg scored not one, but two goals while on five-on-three power plays.
No, really. Tampa, which won a pair of Stanley Cups by playing structured, disciplined hockey came completely unhinged at times, gifting the Jets all kinds of chances to put their skill to the test. Kyle Connor scored the game-winner at 5:38 of the third, blasting a Mark Scheifele feed past Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was actually more like a 5-on-2, given that one of the Tampa defenders had lost his stick.
The Jets erased a 2-1 deficit near the midway mark of the second period while enjoying their first two-man advantage, when Pierre-Luc Dubois tipped a Morrissey blast for his second of the game. Dubois got Winnipeg on the board with 39 seconds left in the first, this time deflecting a Connor shot.
Tampa coach Jon Cooper was fuming after the game, which is why we’re taking the rather unusual step of including a visiting coach’s comments in our recap. We simply can’t help ourselves.
“It’s a complete lack of discipline. It was embarrassing, what we did,” Cooper said. “How many five-on-threes you’re up against in one season, you count on maybe one hand and we give them two minute-and-a-half five-on-threes in one game, unacceptable. That shouldn’t happen. And good on Winnipeg. Honestly, it was really a nothing game going on. That game could have been 0-0 and a shootout. They (the Jets) stayed disciplined, just said, ‘Sit back and wait for Tampa to screw it up’ and they did. And that’s what happened.”
2 Connor took a season’s worth of penalty minutes.
No, really. He did. The reigning Lady Byng Trophy winner took a tripping minor in the second period, then followed that up with a second stick infraction with just under two minutes to play and his team clinging to a one-goal lead. Those four minutes match what he took all of last year — in 79 games.
Fortunately, the Jets bailed out their goon of the night with a tremendous penalty kill that went four-for-four, including a massive shorthanded empty-net goal by Morgan Barron to put this one on ice.
“It’s a relentless effort. Everybody buying in, getting to shots, getting those clears, bearing down,” said Connor. “They have been one of our best attributes all season, and we need special teams. Our power play came up with some big goals, but our penalty kill, it’s been right up there at the top all season, and it really showed its strength tonight. You can win a lot of games with a good penalty kill.”
3 Scheifele was throwing huge hits and fighting.
No, really. Winnipeg’s top goalscorer crushed Haydn Fleury with a massive check in the third period that left the Lightning defenceman in pain, then immediately dropped the gloves when Anthony Cirelli came flying in to defend his fallen teammate.
“It was a good hit and I think he surprised us all with that,” Dubois said of Scheifele. “I say surprised not that we think he’s not tough, we just didn’t expect that. You know the hardest teams to play are the teams that stick together, that everybody out there can do a little bit of everything. Scheif is known for his scoring, his passing, but if he goes out there and everybody knows Scheif won’t get stepped on, he won’t get himself worried, it was great to see from the bench.”
Bowness loved the response.
“The intensity is there. Mark’s heart is in the right place. He’s been working hard all year. You’re asking your players to play with energy and passion and emotion, then those things are going to happen,” he said.
4 Dubois and Dylan DeMelo might have had the saves of the night.
No, really. Dubois batted away an airborne puck late in the second period that was likely going to fall into the net, and then DeMelo swept away a loose puck in the Winnipeg crease in the third period.
“That usually helps,” said Bowness. “Funny, at least they knew where it was. That thing popped up into the air and no one really knew where it was but those two guys did. That’s a timely save from those two guys.”
5 Connor Hellebuyck denied Steven Stamkos a chance at a major milestone — time, after time, after time.
Stamkos came to town with 498 career goals, and you knew the guy who once scored No. 60 in a single season against Winnipeg would be dialed in. Hellebuyck had other ideas, stopping five Stamkos shots (four of which were Grade-A scoring chances).
Overall, Hellebuyck stopped 26 of 28 shots to record his 20th win of the year, good for second-best in the NHL.
6 The Jets had a massive infusion of talent.
A bit of a lost storyline given everything else that happened. The NHL trade deadline is still two months away. The Jets, however, are beefing up early, with a mass mid-season injection of talent the likes of which you’ll rarely see.
Welcome back, Nikolaj Ehlers. Hello there, Blake Wheeler. You too, Cole Perfetti. And hey, there’s Nate Schmidt as well. All four were welcomed back into the lineup with open arms Friday, Yes, it was a case of both quality AND quantity.
“To get four guys back (at once) is ridiculous,” is how Morrissey described it before puck drop. “You never see that.”
The Fab Four missed a combined 59 games, with Ehlers (36) accounting for the majority. None had a real impact on the game, as they work their way back into game shape. But we’ve seen what a watered-down roster can do under Bowness’ system. Now, it will be fascinating to see what a deep and highly skilled lineup can do.
“It’s a good measuring stick for us,” said Dubois. “We got a lot of those guys back. It’s not easy for those guys, missing whether it’s three months, two months or a couple of weeks. But it was a big team win for us.”
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.