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This article was published 1/11/2018 (613 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
HELSINKI — Patrik Laine gave the people what they wanted.
What he wanted — and needed — too.
Desperate to soothe the ache of falling short of his own sky-high expectations, the Winnipeg Jets young forward delivered not one, not two, but three goals Thursday night before an adoring crowd at Helsinki's hockey shrine, Hartwall Arena.
The significance of a hat-trick flows across international borders. When the young Finn sent a puck sailing down the ice and into an empty net with 47 seconds left on the clock to seal Winnipeg's 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers, the lids rained down and the thunderous applause only intensified.
Laine, 20, who hails from Tampere – about 180 kilometres north of the capital city – snapped a personal five-game scoreless skid with two power-play goals from his favourite spot, the left faceoff dot, on Panthers goalie James Reimer.
What a night; what better place than home to strut his explosive stuff.
"I don’t think you guys can even imagine how good that feels," Laine told a packed room of reporters. "It might be different if I had played really well in the first (12 games) that we have played. I was a pretty bad player. Now, getting rewarded like that was pretty awesome."
Winnipeg (8-4-1) and Florida (2-5-3) waste no time getting reacquainted, with the second game of the 2018 NHL Global Series set for Friday. Game time is 1:05 p.m. (CT).
Laine now has six goals this season, his third campaign after being selected by Winnipeg in the first round (second overall) of the NHL Draft. Five of his goals have come on the power play.
Some might have questioned Paul Maurice's decision to send Laine – not one blessed with strong defensive instincts – over the boards in a one-goal game with about a minute left.
The Jets' head coach said the scene was set for something special to happen and he had to follow through.
"It was right, the right thing to do," said Maurice. "Had he struggled five-on-five, had I been uncomfortable with his game... ah, I still would have put him out. Who am I kidding? I’m in Finland. I put him out there because I want to be able to get to the bus after the game. If Patty’s not on (the ice), it might have been a 50-50 proposition, me getting out of here alive."
The first part of this tale was written with Laine in mind as a main character when the NHL announced early in the year two regular-season games would be staged in Helsinki.
Laine took it upon himself to pen a remarkable ending.
"Obviously, it’s good to be home and to be able to score those goals here. It was pretty awesome," he said.
Laine's not an athlete who lets himself off the hook. He's demonstrative on the ice – with head rolls and stick slams – when he fails to pull the trigger, and he regularly admonishes himself for offensive misses and defensive blunders.
Remember, it was a year ago when he expressed to reporters during a pointless stretch in October that "hockey is really hard right now." He hauled himself out of that offensive rut. This season, he'd earned just five points in his first dozen games, including the recent scoring drought – and he's leaped out of this trench, too.
"He’s really hard on himself. That’s something that we try to work with him and keep him confident but it’s also a good thing, you know. It’s a great attribute for a guy to be able to look in the mirror. Maybe he’s a little bit too hard on himself at times and maybe he feels that he’s playing worse than he is," said captain Blake Wheeler, who played set-up man on all three Laine tallies. "But you want a guy that cares and you want to play with guys that want to be great. He’s certainly one of those guys.
"Listen, throughout seasons and throughout careers, there are going to be highs and lows in confidence. He’s typically pretty honest with you guys through those times, which I’m sure you appreciate. Then right after those moments, there’s typically a hat-trick or two right after. That’s the type of kid that he is and that’s what we try and keep reminding him, that there are going to be hard times, but this is what he’s capable of," Wheeler added.
Florida stormed from the gate and fired nine straight shots at goalie Connor Hellebuyck, including at least three from point-blank range, through nearly seven minutes of play before the Jets responded with their first drive at Reimer.
Hellebuyck turned aside 18 shots in the initial 20 minutes, allowing his groggy group a chance to gain some traction. In all, he made 36 stops.
"He made some great saves for us, a breakaway, a couple off his head. He kept us in it and it’s nice having that when we’re not exactly sharp to start a game," said centre Bryan Little. "I think tonight was a game filled with mistakes and he saved our butts a few times out there, so I think we want to clean that up (Friday)."
Mathieu Perreault opened the scoring for Winnipeg with his second goal of the season.
Once again, Laine was a menace with the Jets on the man advantage, just as he was last season when he led the NHL with 20 goals on the power play. With puck-moving aces like Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien regularly looking his way, Laine only needs a fraction of a second to unleash that blistering one-timer.
He wristed one behind Reimer to snap a 1-1 tie with just under five minutes left in the second period and then hammered home the winning goal with two Panthers in the penalty box just 3:28 into the final period to lift Winnipeg to a 3-2 lead.
On this night, Laine was the marksman. Other nights, he's the perfect decoy.
"If they’re covering (Laine), it means I get to shoot. That’s a good thing," said a droll Byfuglien, who also had three assists and delivered a jarring body check to the Panthers' Finnish-born star centre Aleksander Barkov. "We’ve just got to move the puck and play as five out there. No matter what, obviously we might take a little peak over there (to Laine) a little bit more, but you’ve still got to work as a group and you’ve got to move that puck quick."
The Jets finished two-for-six on the power play, while the penalty killers stymied Florida on five of six opportunities, including a four-minute kill when centre Adam Lowry took an elbowing minor, chirped the referee and was assessed a misconduct with the game tied 1-1 in the middle frame.
"I was a little upset with the call and I lost my cool. That was a stupid penalty by me, and to put the team down for four minutes is unacceptable. I’ve got to be a little bit more mature than that," Lowry said. "Sometimes, you’ve got to bite your tongue. You’ve got to go to the box, shut up and hope that your team kills it. Fortunately, I was bailed out. I probably owe the PKers and the goalie something for that."
Florida got goals from Keith Yandle and Evgenii Dadonov, while Reimer, a product the tiny Interlake community of Morweena, Manitoba, made 32 saves.
Maurice said he was still undecided on who gets the call to guard the net Friday, Hellebuyck or back-up goalie Laurent Brossoit.
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).
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Updated on Thursday, November 1, 2018 at 8:33 PM CDT: Full write through
8:38 PM: Adds photos.
9:43 PM: Adds information on Friday's goalies