Nathan Beaulieu has had a rough go this season but earned some much-deserved satisfaction Sunday night.
The Winnipeg defenceman sailed in a shot from the point just 96 seconds into the third period and found mesh for his first goal of the 2019-20 NHL campaign to lift the Jets to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford was knocked sideways by Andrew Copp and couldn't find the hard, high drive, although the Jets forward got jostled by Blackhawks blue-liner Nick Seeler. Head coach Jeremy Colliton elected not to challenge the play for a possible goalie-interference infraction.
The Jets (30-25-5) snapped a two-game losing skid and are 3-2-0 on a six-game homestand. Chicago (26-25-8) lost four of five on a Western Canada swing, book-ended by losses on consecutive Sundays at Bell MTS Place. Winnipeg is just a point behind the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes, who hold down the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference.
Beaulieu, sidelined for 33 game this season while recovering from three separate injuries, also added an assist on Mason Appleton's second-period goal that evened the game 1-1.
"Good for him because he’s done lots of really good things for us, and those guys don’t get much of a payoff sometimes," said head coach Paul Maurice. "They play hard minutes, normally a lot of penalty-kill time... good for him, he’s earned it."
It was Beaulieu's first goal since joining the Jets at the trade deadline from Buffalo last February, and his first since Nov. 27, 2018 — a 59-game goalless gap.
Beaulieu has engaged in some fisticuffs a couple of times in the current home stand — including a spirited scrap with Seeler on Feb. 9 that ignited the Jets to a 5-2 win over Chicago — and can do no wrong in the eyes of his teammates.
"The guy's been a warrior for us. So, for him to get on the scoresheet is just awesome," said Appleton.
Remarkably, neither team had a player make a trip to the penalty box, a first in the league this season.
Jack Roslovic also scored for Winnipeg, while Dmitry Kulikov had two assists. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 31 shots to raise his record to 25-18-5.
Maurice utilized some new forward combinations to begin the Central Division battle, uniting three members of the draft class of 2015. Roslovic centred a third line of Appleton and Jansen Harkins and the unit was duly rewarded for some terrific hustle.
Appleton scored his fourth goal of the season, tipping in a point shot from Nathan Beaulieu at 6:38 of the middle frame to even the game 1-1. Initially, Harkins was stoned by a sliding Crawford but chased down the loose puck and sent it back to Beaulieu.
Roslovic's slick deflection off a Kulikov drive at 15:37 sparked Winnipeg to its first lead. Appleton helped construct the play, protecting the puck down low before sending it back to the veteran defenceman.
"I think we got a lot of speed on that line. We play a simple game. We can make reads off each other and stay at our top speed and that’s when we’re effective," said Appleton. "I think there’s a little bit of everything, but I think, first and foremost, we were fast. We can, all three, use our speed to our advantage and then drive defenceman back and make simple plays to the net and then that creates havoc and it’s a simple game. But that’s where goals are scored: in the front of the net."
All three have played significant time in the system with the Manitoba Moose.
"Me and Jack have played together for a long time now, for the last three years, and I think (Harkins), I’ve played with him and so has Jack. Yeah, that draft class has a lot of players with the Jets now and it just goes to show the scouting and how we develop as players," said Appleton.
Kyle Connor's would-be 30th midway through the second period was waved off after a review by the NHL Situation Room, which ruled the Winnipeg winger used his arm to bat in a shot off the end boards by Tucker Poolman.
Ryan Carpenter's shinpad was his tool of choice on the Blackhawks game-opening goal. Kane sent the puck to the front of the net, and it took a fortuitous bounce off Carpenter's leg and hopped over Hellebuyck at 15:44 of the first period.
The Jets have trailed 1-0 in each of its last four contests, all at home.
Winnipeg product Jonathan Toews and his old buddy, Patrick Kane, weaved some magic on the Blackhawks goal to knot the game 2-2 late in the second period.
Beyond power-play time, the pair of 13-year veterans rarely play together, yet there's a mind meld between the Stanley Cup winners and future hall-of-famers that can't be denied. Toews had puck possession in a dangerous scoring position but sent a no-look pass to Kane streaking to the net, instead, and he fired his team-leading 27th tally.
Colliton paired the dynamic duo for the last two periods, and Maurice countered by reuniting Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
Scheifele hasn't scored in 11 games and has just one in his last 15.
Maurice was adamant moving the captain alongside his long-time centre and adding in Nikolaj Ehlers on the left side wasn't a plan to light a fire under Scheifele.
"No, absolutely not. That had nothing to do with it. It changed as soon as Kane went with Toews. So, Wheels goes up on the wing. Wheeler and Scheif have played that (shut-down) role," said Maurice.
"The puck’s not going in the net for him right now. I’m not worried about that. I don’t know if there’s going to be a lot of offence for you when you’re playing against Toews. That’s an elite player. So, you’re not getting 100 chances in that game. The number of chances he’s been getting in a lot of games have been high. He’s generated offence, he’s had chances to score. So, they’ll all tell you the same thing, you only start to worry when you’re not getting any, and he’s getting a bunch, they’re just not going in."
Russian-born forward Andrei Chibisov made his NHL debut for Winnipeg and had eight shifts for just over eight minutes of ice time.
Winnipeg concludes the stretch at home Tuesday at 7 p.m. when the Los Angeles Kings pay a visit.
Then it's eastbound and down as the Jets face the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday night and then continue the four-game road trip against the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres next weekend before wrapping up in Washington against the Capitals one day after the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
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).
Updated on Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 11:39 PM CST: Writethru
February 17, 2020 at 12:34 PM: Corrects cutline