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This article was published 27/11/2017 (921 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Facing a two-goal deficit and seemingly going nowhere fast, the Winnipeg Jets found the spark they were looking for in what may be the National Hockey League's best fourth-line.
And the momentum generated by the trio of Mathieu Perreault, Joel Armia and Matt Hendricks – including two goals, a fight and even drawing a bizarre squirting-the-water-bottle penalty – led them to a big 7-2 win over the Minnesota Wild Monday night at Bell MTS Place.
"On the board we’re a fourth line. But on the ice we certainly don’t feel like a fourth line. We feel like we can produce every night and outplay every match we have on other team’s fourth line. So I think it’s a great matchup," said Perreault.
The Wild jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and seemed destined to make life difficult for the home squad. But then Armia got things going with just over four minutes left in the opening period when he knocked home a rebound past Minnesota's Alex Stalock to cut the lead in half. Hendricks had made a clever deflection of Josh Morrissey's point shot to set up the goal.
"They’ve been playing great for us. They’ve been playing with a ton of energy and they made a great play to get us going, got a bit of the momentum on our side and we closed that period out strong," captain Blake Wheeler said of the trio.
Mark Scheifele tied it less than two minutes later, one-timing a beautiful cross-ice pass from Wheeler while on the power play. It's the team-leading 12th of the year for Scheifele, who has scored two other goals this year on nearly identical plays from Wheeler.
Minnesota was clearly flustered at letting their lead evaporate, and defenceman Matt Dumba took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the period when he sprayed a water bottle at Armia.
"Of course it’s always funny when the other team gets angry or whatever. I mean, that’s probably one thing we try to do every night, just work as hard as we can so the other team gets frustrated," said Armia.
Although the Jets didn't capitalize to begin the middle frame, they certainly took over the game.
Jacob Trouba put the Jets up 3-2 when he finished off a beautiful three-way passing play midway through the period. Andrew Copp fed a saucer pass to Scheifele, who drew both Wild defenders and then found Trouba for the tally.
Moments later, Armia spotted a wide-open Perreault who beat Stalock to the glove side.
"I think Army’s been great at getting the pucks down low. The pass he made to me was a great play. And Hendy, he’s a hard-working guy. I work hard. So I think it’s a combination of all of us," Perreault said of what's making the line click right now.
Minnesota's Daniel Winnik tried to get his team back in it by dropping the gloves with Hendricks just before the period ended, but it proved to be a poor decision as the veteran Jets centre got the best of that duel.
And Winnipeg just kept coming. Kyle Connor made it 5-2 early in the third period, putting home a rebound created by a strong Wheeler rush to the net that was stopped by Stalock.
Minnesota called a timeout looking to stop the bleeding, but the Jets went up 6-2 when Bryan Little deflected a Ben Chiarot point shot. All heck then broke loose on the ice, with Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Quincey getting into a scuffle which led to several players on both sides jumping in.
Wheeler finished off the scoring when a pass attempt late in the third went off a Minnesota skate and past Stalock. It was that kind of night for the Jets, who were coming off being shut out by San Jose on Saturday night. The top line of Wheeler, Scheifele and Connor all finished the night with a goal and two assists each.
Minnesota generated only 19 shots in total as Connor Hellebuyck enjoyed a rather quiet night in the crease – especially once his team finally got their legs going after the less-than-stellar start. He's now 13-2-2 on the year.
On Minnesota's first goal, defenceman Dustin Byfuglien got a bit too aggressive trying to create some offence and ended up turning over the puck in the neutral zone, then getting caught up ice. The Wild quickly turned it around, and Jason Zucker finished off a three-on-one rush by deking out Hellebuyck.
Byfuglien got burned moments later, seemingly stopping skating at his own blueline and allowing Minnesota's Charlie Coyle to get in behind him. Coyle's shot was stopped by Hellebuyck, but Zack Mitchell buried the rebound. However, the goal was erased as the Jets successfully challenged the play was offside, which was the reason Byfuglien seemingly halted on the assumption the play would be blown dead.
Minnesota made it 2-0 for good a few minutes later as Chris Stewart finished off a three-way passing play by converting a feed from linemate Matt Cullen. The Jets were again flat-footed in their own zone as they returned home from a tough road swing that saw them play four games in six days.
"We were down two and I didn’t think we had a bad start. The first four chances of the game were ours, we liked that. A couple of mistakes and the puck is in the back of the net but our game didn’t really change. We kind of came right back," said coach Paul Maurice, who credited the Perreault line with the boost that led to seven unanswered goals.
Winnipeg is now 15-6-3 on the year, while Minnesota drops to 11-10-3. That puts the Wild eight points back of the Jets, and having already lost the season series by dropping all three head-to-head meetings so far this year.
Winnipeg is now 5-1-0 in their division. They'll face another Central division test when they travel to Colorado to play the Avalanche on Wednesday night.
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.
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Updated on Monday, November 27, 2017 at 10:58 PM CST: Full write through