Welcome back, Nikolaj Ehlers. Don’t be shy about getting involved.
Conspicuously absent for a long stretch due to health, the dynamic Dane made a remarkable return to the Winnipeg lineup, scoring twice — including the game winner at 9:13 of overtime — as the Jets earned a stunning 5-4 playoff victory Sunday night over the visiting Edmonton Oilers.
Winnipeg has a sturdy 3-0 grip on the best-of-seven North Division series, after beginning with a pair of wins at Rogers Place last week.
Neither club has time to muse about the outcome. Winnipeg has an opportunity to sweep the series tonight with an 8:45 p.m. start at spectator-free Bell MTS Place.
With none of the usual ‘Whiteout’ mayhem surrounding them, the Jets generated their own post-game frenzy after rallying to score three times in a span of three minutes and three seconds to knot the game 4-4 in the third period.
"That’s our team. I mean, we don’t give up. That’s what’s so fun playing on this team and after the OT winner you can see the joy," said Ehlers. "I mean, it’s a wonder no one got injured at the end there during the celebration. But it’s awesome. And it’s, like I said, the boys don’t give up. We showed a battle at the end and it paid off."
Taking a draw to the right of goalie Mike Smith, veteran centre Paul Stastny pulled the puck back to Ehlers, who unleashed a laser beam past the veteran netminder.
The speedy 25-year-old winger actually called his shot earlier in the day, quipping after the morning skate that a key to his game would be to "skate, play simple and shoot the puck like Stas. It’s pretty easy."
Stastny’s seeing-eye shot in overtime was the difference Friday night in a 1-0 win in Game 2.
"I mean, you always dream of scoring these kinds of goals. But, for me it was a matter of getting out there, play simple and use my speed as much as possible," said Ehlers, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury for the final nine games of the regular season and two post-season contests.
He netted 21 goals in 47 games before getting hurt April 24 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I expect that of myself. I put enough pressure on myself to perform and that doesn’t mean just scoring goals, means playing well; even if you have a bad game you go out and work hard and maybe play a little bit more simple," Ehlers said.
Down 3-1 and in desperate need of an early goal in the final frame, the Jets surrendered one, instead, as Jujhar Khaira tipped in a point shot from Adam Larsson at 4:43.
But Edmonton forward Josh Archibald felled 6-7 defenceman Logan Stanley with a dangerously low hit, leading to a Jets power play and a major swing in momentum.
Mathieu Perreault netted a power-play goal at 11:41 to trim the lead to 4-2, and then Blake Wheeler and Josh Morrissey beat Smith within 16 seconds of each other.
"Absolutely, I think this is the best way to make him pay for what he did. We don’t like what he did, we don’t really like to see it. It wasn’t a very good play on his part. And we’re pissed about it and we go out and score a goal and there’s no better way to pay back, so obviously the goal we scored, was huge," said Perreault.
Archibald, who lowered his shoulder into Stanley’s knee, will have a hearing with the NHL’s department of player of safety.
Morrissey’s point drive appeared to change trajectory on the way in, fooling Smith with just 5:16 left in regulation. Oilers star centre Connor McDavid coughed up the puck to Adam Lowry along the wall, and the big centre immediately found Morrissey who sidestepped Jesse Puljujarvi before firing.
"Obviously, we got a little momentum and scored a couple goals. I think we won the draw, got the puck in deep and I got a great pass from Lows first of all – great vision – and I just tried to get a shot through from the point. Thankfully it went in and it was just an exciting moment," said Morrissey. "Obviously, as (captain Blake Wheeler) said, I couldn’t even imagine what the arena would have been like with fans."
Pierre-Luc Dubois helped set up two goals, including Ehlers’ power-play marker at 17:13 of the second period when Smith was without his goal stick.
Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 44 shots, while sharing no blame on the four pucks that got past him.
He denied Kailer Yamamoto from in tight just two minutes into the extra session and then made a brilliant stop on a Ryan McLeod deflection. Smith, meanwhile, made quality stops on Andrew Copp and Mark Scheifele in overtime — finishing with 32 saves — but failed to react in time to the Ehlers bullet.
The Adam Lowry line, with wingers Andrew Copp and Mason Appleton, had a handful of effective shifts in overtime against the Oilers’ lethal trio of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Puljujarvi, maintaining possession and nearly ending the contest.
Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice was asked if he believes the positive vibes will automatically carry over to Monday's matchup.
"I don’t know the answer to that because I’ve never done the back to back in the NHL in the playoffs, so this is going to be a new event," he said. "We’ll see. We’re going to do our best to recover now to get ready to understand that it will be (the Oilers’) backs against the wall, the best they have, a really, really hard push from that team."
A McDavid-Draisaitl drought was never going to last. The German-born all-star pumped in a pair of goals to pace the Oilers to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes and then set up Zack Kassian’s second-period tally. McDavid, the league’s leading point-getter (105), had three assists.
Staring a must-win situation in the face in Game 3, Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett made significant alterations to his personnel up front, swapping out 25 per cent of the group. He chose to go with a trio of fleet-footed forwards — Gaetan Haas, Tyler Ennis and Devin Shore — over the experienced but markedly slower James Neal, Alex Chiasson and Dominik Kahun.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).