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This article was published 18/3/2018 (523 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Patrik Laine see Stars in his eyes, look out.
The Winnipeg Jets extraordinary young winger terrorizes the Dallas Stars like no other NHL squad he faces. In four games against Dallas this season, Laine has six goals. In nine games over two NHL seasons, he has 14.
Some easy math shows he's victimized Dallas goalies for 17.7 per cent of his 79 career tallies.
He notched goals 42 and 43 of the 2017-18 campaign Sunday night — tying Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the league lead — to propel the Jets to a 4-2 victory, their second of six straight games at Bell MTS Place.
Winnipeg lost a key performer early in the third period when Jacob Trouba took a punishing open-ice hit from Dallas captain Jamie Benn. The defenceman had difficulty even standing and was helped off the ice and taken immediately to the dressing room, likely to undergo concussion testing. He did not return.
"Head to head contact there on the ice. We won’t have an official diagnosis until (Monday)," offered head coach Paul Maurice. "They both came together and it was helmet on helmet."
A masterpiece it wasn't, but wins of all shapes and sizes are critical down the stretch. At times, the Jets (43-19-10) had difficulty matching the intensity of Dallas (38-27-8), entrenched in a battle for the final Western Conference wild-card spot.
But goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 28 saves, while Blake Wheeler led the charge with another hard-working, offensively productive night, finishing with a memorable assist on Laine's game-opener late in the first period and netting his 19th goal of the year into an empty cage.
And Laine was Laine, who now has 18 goals and 26 points during a 15-game points streak, including a pair of two-goal games against Dallas.
The 19-year-old Finn has no explanation why the stars align for against the Central Division foes from Texas.
"I think I’m just pretty lucky against Dallas," Laine said. "I don’t know why, but hopefully it’s not bad that we’re not playing against Dallas any more this season. There's a chance that we’re going to meet in the playoffs, so why not?"
He said he thinks more about botched opportunities more the pucks that go in.
"Maybe more about the couple that I missed. I had a couple good chances, including the empty netter. I couldn’t get that. But it’s a huge two points and I’m satisfied," he said.
Both tallies came at the expense of Dallas back-up Kari Lehtonen, who was forced into the game midway through the first period when starter Ben Bishop was hurt stretching to make a brilliant save off centre Bryan Little.
Maurice said the talented winger has actually had better games.
"I’ve loved his game, maybe up until tonight. I thought his game was OK. Everybody don’t panic, I’m not picking on him," said Maurice. "He’s always going to be able to score because he’s a shooter... he had it the day he walked in the door. But what we will need, as his minutes grow and the competition he plays against (gets tougher), we’ll need him to develop other parts of his game.
"He’s running actually a simpler game without the puck and driving harder, in straight lines. If you continue to do that, (with) that strength, we’ll be looking at him as a power forward by the end of this. By the end of his career, that’s the label he will get. He’s a very strong man, he can hit hard and he can certainly protect the puck. I don’t think we’ll describe him as a quick player, but he’ll be a strong skater if he continues on the path that we think he’s on."
Seeing Trouba wobble after the collision was distressing, said Laine, who missed eight games last season with a concussion after taking a hit from Buffalo's Jake McCabe.
"It’s always not good when that kind of stuff happens. I was in the receiving part last year but I don’t have any memories about that hit," said Laine. "Hopefully, he has maybe a couple, that he didn’t pass out. Just got to hope he’s doing well."
Trouba, who rejoined Josh Morrissey on the team's top pairing, had just returned Thursday in a win over Chicago — registering a pair of assists — after missing 20 games with ankle injury.
"It’s the middle of the game, so you can’t dwell on it too much," said Wheeler. "Unfortunately, we’re becoming a little bit used to those scenarios. But you just cross your fingers and hope for the best."
Jets centres Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry were welcomed additions, returning to the lineup after missing long stretches due to injured, while blue-liner Toby Enstrom also played after missing the last four games.
The Jets, 8-3-1 in their last 12 games, trail division-leading Nashville by eight points but are seven up on third-place Minnesota.
"Laine did Laine things again against us," said Benn, who scored for the Stars. Matthias Janmark also scored for the visitors.
Laine's game-opener on the power play with just .9 seconds left in the first ignited the downtown arena. Laud him for a lightning-quick release that Lehtonen couldn't handle, however, it was made possible by captain Wheeler, laid out flat on the ice but still able to sweep the puck through defenceman Dan Hamuis' legs to Laine's blade.
"That was a little lucky. I tripped over myself, I tend to do that once in a while," said Wheeler, who leads the NHL with 61 assists. "I saw Patty there. It was desperation, I think it hit off one of their guy’s heels or clipped a stick or something. We’ll take it."
A wild scramble with under four mintues left featured a pile of at least eight bodies just above Hellebuyck's crease. Jets winger Brandon Tanev actually shoved a linesman to get out to block a shot, while his goalie sprawled to make a couple of blocks with his stick.
This week, the Jets host a pair of Pacific Division teams fighting for spots in the post-season. The Los Angeles Kings visit Tuesday, while the Anaheim Ducks come here Friday. Both games are 7 p.m. starts.
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).
Updated on Sunday, March 18, 2018 at 10:38 PM CDT: Writethru