LAS VEGAS — It may not always be pretty. It's certainly not conventional. But somehow, some way, these plucky Winnipeg Jets are finding a way to get things done.
Take Saturday night as the latest example. Down 3-1 and seemingly out of energy, their legs and lungs heavy after playing for a second straight night, the visitors rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Kyle Connor won it during the action-packed three-on-three session after taking a nifty feed from Patrik Laine and ripping a shot past Malcolm Subban. Just like that, the Jets were back above .500, now at 8-7-0.
"It’s kind of our MO. Just stay with it. Obviously a few went against us early. Just kept it close enough that we could be within striking distance. Just try to get that next goal. Once we got that next one, just stay with it, try to keep taking our shots and trying to capitalize on our opportunity," said captain Blake Wheeler.
After being badly outplayed Friday in San Jose but stealing a 3-2 win, thanks to a heroic, 51-save effort by goalie Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets were hoping for a better overall effort one night later as they wrapped up a three-game road trip. And they got the good start they were looking for as Mathieu Perreault scored on a deflection just 2:19 into the period, bringing down the amped-up crowd inside T-Mobile Arena.
But like a lot of things in in Sin City — cash, common sense and even dignity — it wasn't long before it disappeared. The early lead was wiped out by three Vegas goals in a span of 3:39, putting the weary travellers on the ropes.
Backup Laurent Brossoit, who was making his first start in nearly three weeks, was beaten clearly on shots from Jonathan Marchessault, Max Pacioretty and Nate Schmidt before the opening frame was even halfway over. But he buckled down from that point on, making several big saves including a point-blank chance off Marchessault late in the third period with the game still tied,
"That’s all that matters, you know. At the end of the day, it’s like anyone else in the game, we all make mistakes out there. You just gotta keep fighting. Especially for a goalie, if you didn’t like the first period, or didn’t like the first couple shots that went in, just keep fighting, give us a chance. I think our goalies know we have enough firepower that we have a chance no matter what the score is, and we just keep fighting," said Wheeler.
The Jets were no doubt hoping the returns of Laine and Adam Lowry would provide a much-needed boost to a lineup that has been severely depleted at times this year. Laine missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, while Lowry had to sit out the same pair of contests to serve a suspension for boarding Calgary's Oliver Kylington during last Saturday's Heritage Classic game in Regina.
They pushed Manitoba Moose call-ups Logan Shaw and C.J. Suess to the press box as healthy scratches.
Lowry could find himself in more hot water with the NHL. He drilled Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch with a questionable hit in pretty much the same spot as the Kylington infraction. No penalty was called on the play, which happened during the second period, but Tuch was left shaken and headed straight for the dressing room, presumably for concussion protocol. He didn't return to the game. Coach Gerard Gallant said following the game he felt Lowry should have been given a major and game misconduct.
Gallant went old school, sending Ryan Reaves over the boards on the very next shift to line up opposite to Lowry, clearly with the intention of fighting him. Lowry obliged, and the pair engaged in a short, spirited scrap. Curiously, no instigator penalty was called.
"You know what, I think it’s just a good, hard hit on Tuch and unfortunately, he was hurt on the play. I respect that. It’s (Reaves’) job and his role. We’re down in the game. I would want some guys to answer the bell if they hit one of our guys and they were hurt. I don’t really have any issues with him coming out there," said Lowry.
Coach Paul Maurice believes that may have been the turning point of the game.
"You’ve now got guys who will spend their entire careers and never have to fight. I’m not complaining about that or advocating against it either way. But there’s a bunch of guys that will never have to do what Adam Lowry did, right? Throws a bit hit, he’s gotta stand up for it. That’s as tough a guy as there is in the league. And do the right thing," said Maurice.
"But that’s why the comeback was important. We’ve got a whole bunch of guys who’ll never have to do that, but Adam’s a teammate. So they’ve got to do something else. They gotta battle a little harder on pucks on the wall, they gotta make another play. That’s the way your teammate shows respect for what Adam did. So I’d like to think that was the singular reason that we found the energy in the third period to battle back and win it."
The Jets certainly came on strong in the final 20 minutes, getting a big power play goal from Perreault with 9:58 left in the frame. Winnipeg had been 0-for-4 up to that point, but got a much-needed tally, as Perreault re-directed a Connor pass.
"That’s the story of the power play. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it doesn’t matter how many 0-fers you go for, our job is to score when it counts. That was a situation where we needed a goal, and we got it. So, you look at the power plays and there might be some things you didn’t like, or love. But I think what you take out of that is we stepped up when we needed to and that was a great job by everyone," said Wheeler.
Then came the tying goal, in somewhat controversial fashion. It looked the Jets were about to be called for icing, with the linesman's hand up in the air and Schmidt, the defenceman, appearing to be slightly ahead of the fast-charging Connor. But he waved it off at the last possible second, Schmidt wiped out and Connor retrieved the puck, finding Scheifele alone in the slot with 6:43 left in the game.
"I don't know how it works. I thought it was a race to the dot, or the angle to the puck. You could go back and forth on that all day," said Connor.
"We’ve had that exact same play go for and against us. Because it’s the motion of the puck, too. They’re not gonna like it, we love it," added Maurice.
With nothing settled in regulation, the stage was set for Connor to be the hero.
"Patty won the faceoff, and credit to him. He's not a centreman and wins that. We just regrouped and got a bunch of speed, me and Patty, and he cuts to the middle. Everybody knows his shot. It freezes pretty much everybody. And I just came from behind and was alone with the goalie and saw five-hole and went there," Connor said of his fifth goal of the season.
Brossoit finished with 23 saves. Subban, making just his second start of the season, had 35 stops.
"That's the job. Mental toughness. I'll put (Brossoit's) play kind of like our team and maybe part of this road trip. There was some wobbliness – I don't know if that's a word, but I'm gonna use it – early on. And then just found a way to fight through and battle hard enough to just get the job done. Good on him," said Maurice.
The Jets have now won five of their eight games this season beyond regulation — three in overtime, two in a shootout. Overall, they went 2-1-0 on the road trip after starting with a 7-4 loss to Anaheim. They also won the Heritage Classic last Saturday in Regina, which was a neutral site game.
The Jets travel back to Winnipeg on Sunday and begin a four-game homestand on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place, welcoming the New Jersey Devils to town.
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.