An incredible toe save on Elias Pettersson. A breakaway stop on Jake Virtanen. And a miraculous goal-line glove grab on Bo Horvat.
Take a bow, Connor Hellebuyck. The man continues to leave opponents shaking their heads in amazement and frustration. His latest performance came Friday night at Bell MTS Place as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1.
Hellebuyck made 32 stops and definitely saved his best for the last period, with three highlight-reel stops that came with his team clinging to a one-goal lead.
"Helly was outstanding when we needed him to be. He’s stood tall for us all year. Any time he has a bad game or gets challenged, he comes back and plays outstanding hockey. It’s my favourite part about him," said captain Blake Wheeler.
Winnipeg improved to 9-7-1 and has points in six of its last eight games (5-2-1), while Vancouver dropped to 9-5-3.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice shuffled the lineup for the game, hoping to find some signs of offensive life after a recent stretch where scoring has been tough to come by. While it was far from perfect, there were some encouraging signs — even if they took a while to arrive.
"I thought we came out with a lot of energy, a lot of fire in our step. Maybe it was the lines, maybe guys just had a lot of energy. I thought we played well, I thought we played a team game and we got better as the game went along," said Hellebuyck, who is showing off his Vezina Trophy-finalist form of two seasons ago.
"I thought we had a spark, good jump. We were working together as a team, there was no one man trying to do it all himself. It was a good team win."
After a scoreless, rather sleepy opening period, it looked like it might be more of the same for a Jets team coming off a frustrating 2-1 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils and with a Vancouver team that played the night before in Chicago. When J.T. Miller gave the visitors the lead early in the second period, you could feel the collective sigh of "Here we go again," from many in the crowd.
Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov lost his man, Miller, in front of the net, and the Vancouver forward had the easy tap-in after a great pass from Troy Stecher.
But then came a pair of back-to-back power plays, which helped Winnipeg grab some momentum. Although the first attempt came up empty with Horvat in the box for tripping, the Jets spent the entire two minutes in the Canucks’ zone and did everything but score. They immediately drew another minor, this time to Jay Beagle for holding, and their work in the offensive zone paid off.
Jack Roslovic scored at 11:54 of the middle frame on a great individual effort, deking through traffic, firing a shot on goalie Thatcher Demko and then burying the rebound to tie the game. It was Roslovic’s third goal of the season.
"I think we had two minutes of zone time there, a couple great looks. That’s what you want on a power play, you want to get momentum for your team. And we certainly did that. We got another one right away and the other unit was just as effective. With the way they were moving, too, they were able to bury it," said forward Kyle Connor.
Wheeler drew an assist, his first power-play point of the season. That’s noteworthy, considering it took 17 games to get one after he recorded 33 last season — 10th-best in the NHL.
His helper came on a new-look unit in which Wheeler, Roslovic, Patrik Laine, Mathieu Perreault and Neal Pionk were grouped together. The other fivesome included Connor, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp and Josh Morrissey.
"That was good to see the guys go out there first and hem them in, they could have easily had one. Draw one right after and get rewarded. That was definitely a big point in the game," said Wheeler.
Winnipeg continued to come on strong after Roslovic’s goal, and took the lead exactly five minutes later when Connor made a nifty zone entry and took a shot on Demko, who kicked out a juicy rebound right on to Scheifele’s stick. The No. 1 centre’s sixth of the year on a slick deke gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead.
The Jets dominated the middle frame, outshooting the Canucks 19-9.
Hellebuyck’s robbery of Pettersson, Virtanen and Horvat in the third period kept the Jets in the lead. Off the ensuing faceoff following the Horvat save, old friend Tyler Myers, who signed with Vancouver in the summer, bobbled a puck at the Winnipeg blue line and a streaking Connor burst in on a breakaway, beating Demko to give the Jets breathing room with just over six minutes to play.
"I don’t know if you want to call it a TSN turning point but I think there might be some thought there," Hellebuyck.
As for the goal, Connor’s sweet moves had the whole Jets bench in awe.
"Those hands are special. He’s definitely found something there with that little move. Get him alone and he’s got a lot of confidence right now," said Wheeler.
"He’s been a guy that’s been a goal scorer at a high level his entire life. For him, the missing piece was confidence. Give him a little bit of confidence and get him some opportunities in tight, he’s definitely got the hands to put it in the net. He’s a very special player."
Adam Lowry sealed it with an empty-net goal, his first point of the season. It was the most unselfish play you’ll ever see, with Perreault passing to Lowry, who initially gave up the easy goal by sliding the puck to Copp on the doorstep and then getting it right back.
As part of the juggled lineup, Wheeler shifted from his usual spot at right wing on the top line to centre the second unit with Ehlers and Roslovic. Scheifele was in the middle of a line with Laine and Connor. Joona Luoto made his NHL debut, playing on a fourth line with 19-year-old David Gustafsson and fellow Manitoba Moose call-up Logan Shaw. The third line was Perreault, Copp and Lowry.
"Everybody can play with anybody, pretty much, on the team. We’ve been pretty familiar with a lot of the guys and we switch it up quite a bit. There’s no foreign players, nobody’s first time playing together. I think we read off each other. Specifically for our line, I think we all can make plays, But that’s not our starting foundation. We’ve got to take care of our own zone and move quick, that’s where we get our success," said Connor.
The four-game homestand continues Sunday afternoon with the Dallas Stars paying a visit. Puck drop is 1 p.m. The Jets wrap things up Tuesday night by hosting the Colorado Avalanche.
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 Friday, November 8, 2019 at 9:49 PM CST: Adds photos
11:13 PM: Full write through, final version.