As playoff tune-ups go, taking down one of the hottest teams in the league is a pretty good place to start.
The Winnipeg Jets went toe-to-toe Thursday night with the big, bad Boston Bruins, pulling away in the third period for a 4-3 victory at Bell MTS Place.
This one had a bit of extra bite, with a pair of Stanley Cup contenders in a snarly mood after each had dropped their last two games.
"It’s a big win against a good team. Any time you get a win against a team like that, you’re gonna be happy," said Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who led the way offensively with a goal and two assists.
It was a productive night for the No. 1 line centred by Scheifele. Captain Blake Wheeler had a goal and an assist, while Patrik Laine had two helpers to give the trio seven points.
"We just stayed with it. Things haven’t been easy for us, but showed some good resolve, did enough to get the win," said Wheeler.
Winnipeg improved to 41-25-4 on the season. Boston lost a third straight in regulation, following a 19-game point streak, and are 42-22-9.
The Jets were coming off a heartbreaking defeat on Tuesday to the San Jose Sharks in which they surrendered the game-winner with 4.3 seconds left in the game after blowing leads on two occasions during the night.
It seemed like history might repeat itself Thursday night, as Winnipeg raced out to an early 2-0 advantage in the first period on goals by Wheeler and Scheifele, only to watch it vanish by the midway mark of the game as Charlie McAvoy and Joakim Nordstrom replied for the visitors.
"Well, we kept it exciting," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
A timely pinch by defenceman Jacob Trouba gave the Jets the lead with just over 12 minutes left in the third period. He crashed the net and jammed home a pass from Scheifele on what was his team’s first shot of the period.
"Great drive to the net by him, and it was a big goal for us," said Scheifele.
Nikolaj Ehlers gave Winnipeg some breathing room with just under seven minutes left after he pounced on a giveaway and fired it past Tuukka Rask. That proved to be the game-winner when Charlie Coyle tipped home a Zdeno Chara blast from the point at 17:04.
"You know, we’re getting close to the playoffs now, and everyone wants to get into that playoff mentality. Yes, we did some very good things out there to get the two points," said Ehlers.
Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves for the victory and was really tested in the second period, when the Jets were under siege and outshot 19-7. Like his team, it was an impressive response following the Sharks game, where he wasn’t at his best.
"I think we’re kind of playing playoff hockey every game from now on. Obviously played a lot of playoff teams lately, so they’re always a challenge. They’ve been really hot, so it was a good challenge this game. I think we played, not the second period, but 40 minutes of good hockey and that was enough tonight," said Laine, who hit iron three times during the game.
Wheeler’s 20th goal of the season came 68 seconds into the game. Laine wired a shot off the crossbar, and Wheeler batted in the rebound. Wheeler has eight goals in his last seven games.
Laine filled the playmaker role again later in the period, as he and Wheeler combined to set up Scheifele for a power-play tally at 11:24. Scheifele’s goal eclipses his previous career high of 32, set in the 2016-17 season.
"Yeah, I’m not just a shooter, I guess. I’m a pretty decent passer as well, like we saw in this game," said Laine, who was tempted to shoot before dishing off to Scheifele on the second goal.
"I thought I was going to shoot, too. Yeah, if I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t think the goalie’s going to know what I’m doing. I thought first I was going to shoot it, I was pretty close. But then I saw Scheif back door, so might as well pass it, sometimes," he said.
Stuck at 29 goals, Laine can’t seem to get any luck in the scoring department recently. However, his game is night and day compared to a prolonged slump earlier this season. Laine has six assists in his last six games and appears to be oozing confidence when he has the puck, as demonstrated when he toe-dragged the puck past Patrice Bergeron and rang a shot of a post in the second period. That would the same Bergeron who is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL.
"I’ve always thought that was there. I don’t think he makes an awful lot of bad decisions. He doesn’t make bad decisions with the puck. He never leaves the guy wide open off the back post and shoot it. He’s never done that," said Maurice.
Scheifele’s goal was bizarre, as Chara swatted his stick about 10 metres into the air, off the netting, about 30 seconds earlier. Scheifele, frustrated there wasn’t a penalty on the play, picked up his stick and used it to score.
"Who knows how that wasn’t called. But I think the hockey gods were on our side there and that’s what happens," said Scheifele.
Winnipeg is 4-4-0 through an eight-game stretch where they have played teams in playoff position. They’ll play another such game Saturday when they host the Calgary Flames.
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 14, 2019 at 11:13 PM CDT: Full write through