CALGARY — It was a marquee Hockey Day in Canada matchup between the country’s best team and the country’s hottest team. Not surprisingly, it went right down to the wire. And then some.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/1/2018 (1620 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CALGARY — It was a marquee Hockey Day in Canada matchup between the country’s best team and the country’s hottest team. Not surprisingly, it went right down to the wire. And then some.

In the end, the Winnipeg Jets edged the Calgary Flames 2-1 in a shootout Saturday to snap a two-game slide and get back in the win column. Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler scored in the skills competition while Connor Hellebuyck turned away both Calgary shooters.

"You know what, that kind of looked like playoff hockey a little bit. I thought we played a really good game — we had our legs under us. I thought we did what we needed to do, the details were there," said Hellebuyck, who stopped 30 of 31 shots during the game.

Winnipeg improves to 27-13-7 and will look to make it two in a row tonight at Bell MTS Place. Calgary (25-16-5) had its seven-game win streak snapped, but still have points in eight straight.

Wheeler was asked following the game if this grind-it-out-and-be-patient kind of style is the key to long-term success for his club.

"You nailed it, man. That’s the biggest thing for our team," Wheeler said.

"I don’t think it’s necessarily a personnel thing or talent thing with us anymore. It’s being OK playing that game. We haven’t had to do it a whole lot here the last seven years. We’ve played four playoff games. So, we’re trying to figure it out on the fly. Our coaching staff is doing an incredible job preparing us."

"It was a good step in the right direction. Only a couple of guys were losing their minds on the bench, so that’s growth. We only snapped a couple of sticks. It’s new for us. This is new territory. I’m not talking about where we are in the standings, the winning. But winning games like that and being OK playing games like that. Even if we lost in overtime or a shootout, it’s still a point and those add up at the end of the year."

Both teams were coming off of bye weeks, but appeared to quickly shake off any rust, showing plenty of jump and energy.

Calgary opened the scoring 8:17 into the game with the teams playing 4-on-4 hockey. Winnipeg turned the puck over while trying to break out of its end and Troy Brouwer pounced, setting up teammate TJ Brodie, who ripped a shot past Hellebuyck.

The Flames appeared to make it 2-0 later in the opening frame, as Hellebuyck was unable to corral a seemingly harmless shot that ended with Brouwer poking in the rebound. But Winnipeg challenged the play, claiming goaltender interference.

After several minutes of review, the goal was waved off. Replays showed Calgary forward Matthew Tkachuk making contact with Hellebuyck, pushing him out of position about a second before the shot went in.

"I probably would have made the save, to be honest," Hellebuyck said. "I was held down, I can’t move, I can’t do anything, I can’t rotate, I can’t really prepare myself for the rebound. So, it was the right call."

Winnipeg seemed to draw some momentum from the play, stringing together several good shifts near the end of the period.

"That’s a big game changer," forward Mathieu Perreault said. "I kinda saw it right away. As soon as I saw the replay I told (coach Paul Maurice) to look at it and then they called it. So it was a good bounce for us, and then we were able to take over from there and play a great game."

Connor Hellebuyck makes a save on a shot by Flames' Johnny Gaudreau during the second period. (Todd Korol / The Canadian Press)</p></p>

Connor Hellebuyck makes a save on a shot by Flames' Johnny Gaudreau during the second period. (Todd Korol / The Canadian Press)

Maurice laughed following the game when told of Perreault’s comments.

"Oh, yeah, it’s all Matty. Matty makes the calls on the bench. We’ll see where Matty is the next one that goes against us," Maurice said. "I was challenging either way, for the time-out effect, if I thought it was close. But I don’t know how comfortable coaches are in thinking they know what the call is going to end up being when you make that call, to be honest."

The momentum carried over to the second, with Nikolaj Ehlers being robbed in the opening minute by Mike Smith.

The Jets tied it just past the midway mark, as Little’s shot was redirected by Perreault through the pads of Smith for his 14th goal of the season. Ehlers drew the other assist. Perreault had made a beautiful entry into the offensive zone on the play to set it all up.

"(Little) just threw it back in on net and I just was able to get my stick on it. It kind of fooled the goalie, I guess. I didn’t even see it go in. I think our line had some great shifts, great chances," Perreault said.

Rookie Jack Roslovic nearly put the Jets ahead, ringing one off the post on the power play. He was inches away from his first career NHL goal and point.

There were some predictable sloppy moments in the game as well, including a Wheeler giveaway on the same man-advantage, which gave Mark Jankowski a partial breakaway. Wheeler ended up taking a slashing penalty in his rush to cover up the mistake.

Hellebuyck had to be sharp as the period wore on, swatting aside a Flames two-on-one rush and then another close call where a Calgary shot struck Little in the face and nearly went in.

Ehlers was denied again in the opening seconds of the third period, as Smith gloved away his one-timer.

"Sometimes, they don’t go in, and they didn’t today," Ehlers said. "I think, besides too many turnovers, I played a good game today, our whole team did. Our line created a lot of chances. We got our two points. That’s all that matters."

Both teams settled into a more defensive style as the game wore on, clearly hoping to at least secure a point by playing it safe and getting it to extra time.

"You just have to stick with it," Perreault said. "Some nights, it’s frustrating; everybody wants to get in the offensive zone and get chances. But you just can’t get frustrated, just stick with it. A 1-1 game like this, that’s the kind of game we’re going to have to play down the stretch and if we get in the playoffs."

Ehlers called it a "great experience" for the young players on the team not to panic and suddenly open the game up.

"You just gotta play the game. We’ve done the right thing, I’d say, 90 per cent of this season. And we’ve played the way we’ve wanted to and everybody has stuck to the system. And we did that again (Saturday). It’s easy because you want to help the team win," Ehlers said of keeping things low-risk.

"Before the break, we lost two in a row. You know, I kinda want to say we reset and got back at it. We had a good start (Saturday), got the two points. We don’t feel any pressure. We’re playing the game that we want to play, and we’ve done that for almost all the games this year. It feels good. We just have to keep this going."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

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.