Training camp and pre-season games usually aren't a whole lot of fun. A necessary evil, if you will. But Sunday's matinee in St. Paul proved to be the exception, with the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild treating fans at Xcel Energy Center to a high-scoring thriller.
With both teams dressing close to their opening-night rosters, it was the final tune-up before the puck drops on the regular season later this week. And the Jets got the better of their Central Division rivals, skating away with a 5-4 overtime victory.
Winnipeg finishes the pre-season with a 3-3-1 record.
The Jets left Mark Scheifele at home, while newly signed Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor didn't play either. Sami Niku continues to deal with a groin injury and wasn't in the lineup. That gave a few players on the bubble one last chance to prove their worth.
Mikko Koivu and Mathieu Perreault traded first-period goals, while Matt Dumba, Kevin Fiala, Adam Lowry and Jack Roslovic did the same in a wide-open middle frame. Defenceman Josh Morrissey made terrific passes to set up Winnipeg's first two goals, including springing Lowry for a shorthanded breakaway.
Mason Appleton gave the Jets an early third-period lead, but Mats Zucarello tied it with 90 seconds left in regulation and his team enjoying a six-on-four advantage with Blake Wheeler in the penalty box and goalie Devan Dubnyk on the bench for an extra attacker.
Jets finish preseason with OT victory over Wild.— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) September 29, 2019
GAME RECAP: https://t.co/dqPh4cbXg1
Morrissey then won it during the three-on-three overtime session in truly exciting fashion. After his stick was knocked from his hands just a few seconds in, the Jets were pinned in their own zone for an extended time. Morrissey eventually dashed to centre ice to get his twig — only to have the puck come out his way in the neutral zone, leading to a 2-on-0 with Wheeler.
A couple passes later and Morrissey capped off the pre-season with a three-point outing. Just like they drew it up.
Minnesota outshot Winnipeg 35-28 in what ended up being a rather rugged, physical and penalty-filled affair. The Jets were 1-for-7 on the power play, while the Wild went 1-for-5.
Veteran Jets centre Bryan Little took a high hit from Minnesota's Luke Kunin early in the game, leaving him clearly dazed. He didn't return to the game with what the club called an upper-body injury. No health update was provided post-game, although coach Paul Maurice called Kunin's play "horses—t."
G CONNOR HELLEBUYCK - The final numbers aren't great. Played two periods before giving way to Laurent Brossoit, giving up three goals on 19 shots. Hard to find any major fault, although Dumba's goal went in off his glove through a bit of a crowd.
He did make a few Grade A stops, including Zach Parise on a breakaway, and seemed to be a bit more comfortable in goal after fighting the puck in his previous two pre-season outings. Still, not a great pre-season, with 12 goals surrendered in just eight periods of action.
Hellebuyck is still the No. 1 and will get the start on Thursday night, but Brossoit's strong pre-season play — including 15 saves on 16 shots Sunday — has him pushing for more work.
D VILLE HEINOLA - We're running out of adjectives to describe the 18-year-old's impressive play. His assist on Appleton's third-period goal was something to behold, as Heinola was basically a one-man cycle around and behind the Minnesota net before finding his teammate near the point for the blast.
Coach Paul Maurice confirmed following the game that he has Heinola sticking with the Jets into the regular-season, with the bigger question being how many games does he play. That's a development likely no one saw coming, but it's well-earned.
Heinola played 15:25, including more than four minutes on the power play, and finished with the assist, a block and a takeaway against quality NHL competition.
��Head Coach Paul Maurice on Neal Pionk, David Gustafsson, Ville Heinola, and more. pic.twitter.com/yLQzIUOFEt— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) September 29, 2019
F DAVID GUSTAFSSON - What an opportunity for the 19-year-old Swede, stepping in to Scheifele's spot to skate on the top line with Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Nothing flashy, but played the kind of safe, smart game which has earned him plenty of trust from the coaching staff. Had 13:24 of ice time, which included no shots and one block. He took a holding penalty late in the third-period which his teammates killed off.
Gustafsson, the second-round pick from 2018, began camp as a long-shot to make the team but has worked his way into the conversation. Depending on whether Little misses any time, there could be an opening to start the year in Winnipeg.
Eventually, he's expected to head back to Europe for one more season with his pro team, and is a candidate to captain the Sweden World Juniors team later this year.
F MASON APPLETON - He played like a guy who knew his job was on the line. Set up Andrew Copp for a scoring chance on his first shift, then got rewarded with his own tally in the third period. Showed lots of energy and was noticeable on nearly every shift.
Played 19:05 with the goal, two shots and a hit and made a strong case to crack the opening-night lineup.
A strong finish after a bit of a sluggish start to training camp.
F JACK ROSLOVIC - Easily his best game of the pre-season, the kind which shows he can very much be a top-six player on this team. Began the day centering a line with Mark Letestu and Joona Luoto, which was noteworthy since he'd been on the wing all pre-season. Moved up following Little's injury to skate between Perreault and Appleton.
His forecheck led to Perreault's first-period goal, and he looked mighty comfortable on the power play, just missing a deflection off a Josh Morrissey shot and then later ripping home a one-timer feed with his team enjoying a two-man advantage.
Played 19:02, including a whopping eight minutes on the power play, and finished with the goal, three shots, a giveaway and a takeaway.
It's time for the final cuts.
Winnipeg still has 29 players in camp - 17 forwards, nine defencemen and three goalies — and will quickly need to get down to a 23-man roster.
Those decisions are expected Monday, when the Jets will have a day off. They'll return to the ice for practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to New York for a season-opening four-game road trip that starts Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against Jacob Trouba and the Rangers.
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 Monday, September 30, 2019 at 12:30 AM CDT: Corrects circumstances of Morrissey retrieving his stick before scoring winner.