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This article was published 6/4/2019 (356 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
GLENDALE — No, the Winnipeg Jets didn’t capture a division title for the first time in the city’s NHL hockey history. That goes to their arch-nemesis from Nashville, yet again. And likely stings more than just a little, given how long they’d been on top this season only to have it slip away in the final week.
But the Jets made sure to grab a pretty decent consolation prize on Saturday night, downing the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 to clinch second place and home-ice advantage through the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"We finished it off the right way. We played the way we wanted to and the way that we’ve been talking about. We got pucks deep, worked their defencemen, created some loose pucks and won our battles. So, we played a really good game," said forward Nikolaj Ehlers as the curtain rose on the 82-game regular season.
Winnipeg (47-30-5) will take on St. Louis (45-28-9) with the best-of-seven series likely beginning on Wednesday night at Bell MTS Place. The full schedule will be released this morning.
The two teams finished tied in the standings with 99 points, one point back of the Predators, but the Jets won the tiebreaker by having three more combined regulation and overtime victories than the Blues (45 to 42).
"You get a little reward, you know. Things haven’t come easy for us recently and I thought we deserved a better result in Colorado (on Thursday night, a 3-2 overtime loss)," said captain Blake Wheeler of the victory.
"We have four lines that can be effective, that’s awesome. When we’re able to do that, keep short shifts and get everyone involved in the game, we’re able to play at a really high speed and that’s when we’re at our best. Continuing to buy into that is going to give us a chance to have some success going into the playoffs."
Winnipeg hit the ice at Gila River Arena at 9 p.m. CT with a chance of finishing first, second or third, starting the playoffs at home or on the road, and with four different potential opponents. Talk about going right down to the wire.
Nashville removed a lot of the drama within half hour as they finished off a rally from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2, clinching the division for a second straight season.
The locked Winnipeg into a matchup with St. Louis, with only home-ice advantage left to be decided.
A Jets loss of any kind to the Coyotes — who were eliminated from the playoffs 48 hours earlier and were simply playing for pride — would have meant a third-place finish and heading to Missouri to face a Blues team that has gone from dead last in the NHL to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
"We knew what was going on. We come here knowing we’re going to have an opportunity at home ice in the first round, that’s what was at stake, so we accomplished what we’d hope to accomplish," said coach Paul Maurice.
Arizona’s Alex Galchenyuk opened the scoring just 2:21 into the game on the power play, and you had to wonder ho Winnipeg would respond. After all, this Jets team is somewhat fragile lately, beginning the night with just one win in the last six games. They were limping towards the regular-season finish line. And not handling adversity very well.
But something seemed to change as the period went on, and Mark Scheifele’s goal with just under five minutes left clearly gave the Jets some jump. Scheifele’s 38th of the season extends his career-high which he previously set last season with 32.
"The bench was right and I didn’t think we changed a whole lot after it got 1-0. It was pretty calm," said Maurice.
The Jets really pulled away in the middle frame. Jacob Trouba gave the visitors the lead just 2:35 in, finishing off some nice work from the fourth line. Par Lindholm took an Adam Lowry pass and drove hard to the net, trying a wraparound which Coyotes goalie Calvin Pickard stopped. However, Trouba swooped in for the rebound, scoring his eighth of the year.
Then the power play went to work. First it was Kyle Connor scoring his 34th of the year off a terrific three-way play with Scheifele and Wheeler, just two seconds after a Coyotes penalty expired at 10:05. The assist gives Scheifele a career-high 84 points. Wheeler’s helper, his career-high 71st, also tied his career-high of 91 points.
Ehlers made it 4-1 when he cashed in with three seconds left on a man-advantage at 15:21. His 21st of the year was the first power play goal in five games for the Jets. It was also the second in as many games for the talented winger.
"There was a little time there where they didn’t go in, so it feels good obviously. Scoring always feels good. Last game we lost, so that kind of sucked. I feel good and I’ve just got to keep it going," said Ehlers.
Arizona cut it to a two-goal game when Brad Richardson converted on a two-on-one just 3:29 into the third period. Tyler Myers was caught pinching up the ice, while his partner, Dmitry Kulikov, didn’t take either the puck-carrier or Richardson, the open man, leaving Connor Hellebuyck guessing.
Then Josh Archibald appeared to really made things tight when he scored on a deflection with 5:10 remaining in the game. The Jets challenged for goaltender interference — and video review determined they had a case. Archibald’s arm clearly made contact with Hellebuyck’s stick just prior to the puck going in. It was taken off the board, and the Jets could exhale a bit.
Don’t forget, this is a team that has an NHL worst nine losses this season when leading through 40 minutes, including their previous game in Colorado. But Winnipeg locked it down the rest of the way.
Hellebuyck finished the night with 19 saves.
"We stuck with it, stayed pretty even keel throughout the whole game, in the locker room and on the bench. We generated some good offence, too, and were able to capitalize," said Connor.
Winnipeg finished with 99 points, which is tied for the second-most in franchise history. They also had 99 in the 2014-15 season, when they captured the final wildcard playoff spot and were swept in four straight games.
The Jets had a franchise-best 114 points last year yet still finished in the exact same spot — second place behind Nashville, which captured the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best regular-season team with 117 points.
They'll fly home on Sunday before returning to practice on Monday to prepare for what they hope will be another extended spring playoff run.
For what it’s worth, the Jets won three of four meetings with the Blues this season, although all were played before rookie goaltending sensation Jordan Binnington was called up from the AHL and saved their season.
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 Sunday, April 7, 2019 at 12:49 AM CDT: Writethru with quotes