Record: 52 – 20 – 10
NEWARK, N.J. — Two of the biggest stories going in the NHL these days came together under one roof Thursday night.
But while Taylor Hall’s incredible point streak came to an end, Patrik Laine’s goal-scoring heroics continued. The Finnish teen sniped for the 39th time this season — and sixth in three games on this current road trip — as the Winnipeg Jets edged the New Jersey Devils 3-2 at Prudential Center.
"I don’t even know what to say. It’s pretty funny, and pretty awesome of course. He’s a pretty good friend, and seeing him scoring the way he does right now, you kind of wish you could do that as well," linemate Nikolaj Ehlers said following Winnipeg’s fourth consecutive win. Ehlers was no slouch himself, scoring the game-winning goal in the third period and adding an assist.
Winnipeg improves to 41-17-9 with 15 games left in the regular season. They remain six points back of the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division, but are now eight points up on the third-place Minnesota Wild. The Predators won their 10th straight game Thursday, while the Wild were idle.
Both Hall and Laine have been the talk of the league lately. Hall entered the game having put up points in 26 consecutive games. He’s only the eighth player in history to accomplish such a feat. But the Jets were able to keep him off the scoreboard, checking him closely all night long. There was no further proof of that then when defenceman Dustin Byfuglien rocked the Devils winger with a huge hit late in the second period.
"He’s a good, talented player. It had to happen sooner or later. I’m glad I was the one," said Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped 41 shots for his 35th victory to set a franchise-record for Atlanta/Winnipeg, moving him past Kari Lehtonen for most wins in a season.
"I haven’t really let it soak in. It’s a good feeling. Having my name up there is going to be pretty cool. It’s a big milestone in my career. I’m going to enjoy it and continue on and keep pushing the pace," said Hellebuyck.
Laine, meanwhile, picked up right where he left off Tuesday. He scored two goals in Sunday night’s 3-2 win in Carolina, and accounted for all three goals in Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers. He needed just over four minutes to open the scoring Thursday, as Ehlers found him alone in front of the New Jersey net. Laine fired a low, hard shot on the ice through goalie Cory Schneider’s five-hole. He didn’t immediately celebrate, leading to a post-game question about whether he knew the puck went in.
"Yeah, I saw it went under his pads, but I didn’t want to celly too hard. It wasn’t a pretty goal," said Laine, who is now apparently bored by seeing the red light go on.
Laine is now up to 75 goals in his young career, which ties him with Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on the list of all-time goals scored by a teenager. Only Jimmy Carson (92), Dale Hawerchuk (85), Wayne Gretzky (76) and Brian Bellows (76) are ahead of him on that list.
"It’s just a number. But it’s pretty awesome to be on that list, behind those guys and tied now," said Laine.
Perhaps some of Laine’s exploits are rubbing off on fellow Finn Joel Armia, who gave the Jets a 2-0 lead in the second period and set a career-high with his 11th of the season.
Meanwhile, Hellebuyck was sharp all night and even chipped in with an assist on Armia’s goal.
Winnipeg’s penalty killing also played a major role in the win, killing off all four minors including a four-minute high sticking penalty taken by Josh Morrissey late in the first period. The Jets have now killed off 20 straight penalties on the road dating back to mid-January. Not surprisingly, they are 7-0-1 in their last eight road games.
New Jersey cut the Jets lead in half in the second period. The Devils had been trying the stretch pass all game, and it finally paid off. Defenceman Dmitry Kulikov gave Kyle Palmieri too much space, and teammate Nico Hischier was able to give him a tape-to-tape pass to spring him on a breakaway. He beat Hellebuyck high to the glove side.
The Devils came out flying to start the third period, firing nine shots at Hellebuyck in just over two minutes. They also got a power play after the Jets got caught with too many men on the ice, but Hellebuyck shut the door. New Jersey outshot the Jets 43-24, including 18-5 in the final period.
Ehlers made it 3-1 midway through the final frame, banging home a rebound after Byfuglien rang one off the post. He made an acrobatic play to keep the puck in the zone seconds earlier, sticking out his skate and using his foot.
"That’s why we play soccer before the game," Ehlers said of the play.
That proved to be the game-winner, as Hischier banked a shot in off Hellebuyck just over a minute later to make it a one-goal game.
The Jets got a late injury scare when defenceman Josh Morrissey was drilled from behind into the boards by Patrick Maroon. He was slow to leave the ice but remained in the game. Winnipeg got their only power play of the game as a result but couldn’t add to their lead.
Winnipeg was already without blue liner Dmitry Kulikov, who didn’t come out to start the third period.
"Upper body, day-to-day. Nothing sinister. Just kind of cramped up on us and couldn’t go," said Paul Maurice. The Jets coach was asked post-game what the key to success was in this one.
"It was pretty damn good goaltending," he quickly replied.
Winnipeg continues the road trip Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, then finishes it off with back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday in Washington and Nashville.
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, March 8, 2018 at 10:33 PM CST: Full write through with quotes added
March 9, 2018 at 6:55 AM: Edited