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This article was published 31/1/2019 (197 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Step right up, Kyle Connor, and watch where you put that thing. It appears you’re the next member of the Winnipeg Jets to be gifted the flaming stick.
Connor played the role of scoring hero for the second time in as many games, firing the winner with just 1:14 left to play as the Jets rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night.
Bryan Little made a perfect pass from behind the enemy net, finding Connor all alone in the slot. The flashy winger made no mistake, as his 22nd of the year sent the crowd at Bell MTS Place into a full-blown frenzy.
"He’s been really hot. It seems that guys just take turns catching on fire like that. He’s the guy with the really hot stick right now. Just keep looking for him, keep feeding him the puck and let him go to work," said Little, who had his own run earlier this month of notching the game-winner in two straight games.
Connor helped rally the Jets Tuesday night in Boston, scoring twice in the third period and the only goal in the shootout. He has nine goals in his last 11 games.
"I’m coming off a change. The puck got rimmed down low to Bryan and he made an incredible pass on his backhand there and found me in the slot. Just tried to get it off quick," said Connor.
"It’s fun to be part of this group. Everybody, from day one, is trying to get better. That’s what makes this group great. I think everybody’s helping each other get to that next level."
Winnipeg improves to 33-16-2 and are now four points ahead of the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division. Columbus, which began the third period up 3-2, lost for a fourth straight game and fell to 28-19-3.
"We’ve been able to grind some of these out. If you look at our month now, we go 8-4 with nine of those teams being playoff teams. We went 6-3 against those teams, with key pieces out (of the lineup). It’s not always perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. There are no style points in the NHL," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
"That was a grinder, so was Boston. Our goalie had to make some saves, we had to get some big-time things happen late in the third for it to go for us — and we did."
The Jets got the strong start they were looking for as Mark Scheifele opened the scoring just 4:34 into the game. He converted a beautiful feed from Blake Wheeler for his team-leading 26th of the season.
Little missed a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 a few minutes later, but a tremendous hustle play by Nick Foligno deflected a shot at the last second that appeared headed for an empty net.
The Blue Jackets built momentum off that play by tying it up a few minutes later. Defenceman Ryan Murray kept the puck in the Winnipeg end, then fed a wide-open Artemi Panarin, who beat Connor Hellebuyck for his 20th of the season.
Panarin, who is rumoured to be on his way out of Ohio, then became a playmaker when he set up Josh Anderson in the slot for the go-ahead goal later in the period.
Rookie Mason Appleton tied it up for the Jets late in the middle frame following some strong work from the fourth line, but Columbus regained the lead just 57 seconds later as Oliver Bjorkstrand beat Hellebuyck on one the Jets goaltender would like back.
It came after another great hustle play from Foligno to break up a Jets’ scoring chance involving Little and his linemates at the other end. Foligno then fed Bjorkstrand for the go-ahead goal.
"Had a few really good chances. Just bad puck luck. Great defensive plays by their guys. We stuck with it. Sometimes it takes until the last minute of the game for it to go your way," said Little.
As it has so many games this season, Winnipeg’s power play proved to be the great equalizer as Jack Roslovic scored 8:47 into the third period with his team enjoying a man advantage.
Columbus got a golden chance with just over six minutes left in the period after Scheifele accidentally flipped a puck into the seats and was sent to the sin bin for delay of game.
But the Jets’ penalty killers managed to burn the two minutes, including one sequence where Brandon Tanev lost his stick, then took a slapshot near the back of the head that sent him sprawling to the ice. Officials immediately blew the play dead, which incensed Columbus head coach John Tortorella, given that his team was essentially going to have a five-on-three.
That set the stage for Connor’s dramatic game-winner.
"We’ve done it enough this year that we have a lot of confidence that we know we don’t have to change our game. We can continue to play the same way for 60 minutes. We’re going to generate enough chances. It’s just a matter of finishing them. Some nights they’re going to go in and some nights they’re not," said Wheeler.
Hellebuyck stopped 28 shots, while Bobrovsky had 23 saves.
"It just speaks to our confidence as a group. Our goaltender as well made some great saves early in that third to keep it a one-goal game. When we’ve got that kind of goaltender backing us up and the offensive power that we have, it’s just a matter of time," Connor said.
Winnipeg has now won six straight at Bell MTS Place and continues a three-game homestand by welcoming the Anaheim Ducks to town on Saturday night, followed by a visit from the San Jose Sharks 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.
Updated on Thursday, January 31, 2019 at 11:36 PM CST: Full write through, adds photo.