The Winnipeg Jets rediscovered their scoring touch Friday night against a fatigued opponent and a backup goalie with his best days behind him.
But give credit where credit is due to the guys who get paid to produce.
Scoring came in bunches but the Jets hammered in the final batch to post an 8-4 triumph over the New Jersey Devils in a wild one before a boisterous crowd of 13,844 fans at Canada Life Centre.
Top-line centre Mark Scheifele, skating again with familiar linemates Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor, started the night with just two goals in 16 games but boosted his numbers significantly with a well-timed hat-trick, scoring in each period.
Nikolaj Ehlers added a pair on Devils goalie Jonathan Bernier, including a sensational, first-period goal and crucial tally, his eighth of the season, midway through the second period, to stop the bleeding.
Wheeler, playing Game 999 of his career, had a season-high three assists.
Winnipeg (11-8-4) continues to do most of its damage at home, raising its record to 8-3-1 at the downtown rink.
While the Jets weren’t at their defensive best, an offensive outburst was a jolt of positivity for the group’s collective psyche. Coming in, the Jets had scored only nine goals during a 1-5-1 stretch.
"We had a tough stretch of hockey. We weren’t happy with our game. But when you do the right things over and over, do the simple things, good things happen. I think tonight was just an example of that," said Scheifele, who recorded the fourth hat-trick of his career.
His nifty move around Dawson Mercer and deke of Bernier opened the scoring at 1:52. He scored an end-to-end beauty in the second period and ripped a one-timer in the final frame.
"You just got to the mindset that you’re just going to get to the net, you’re going to do the dirty things and when you get in a position like that, you just let instincts take over and you just try and play the game," Scheifele added. "That’s the fun part of hockey, when you get a little bit of time and space and you get to make a play. When you do it under speed ... that was just one of those, a good pass by Neal (Pionk) and happy to be the one to put it in."
All but Nate Schmidt, Dylan DeMelo, Evgeny Svechnikov and Dominic Toninato registered at least a point. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck even got an assist, coming on Scheifele’s tally in the middle frame, and he made 33 saves on a night he received major support from the troops up front.
Kristian Vesalainen, Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry also scored for the Jets, while Pionk and Pierre-Luc Dubois each had two assists.
Dubois had primary assists on both Ehlers’ goals.
"You want to help the team any way you can and a lot of the guys were able to get a point on a goal. Scoring points is fun, there’s no secret to that," said Ehlers. "But I think overall we played a game that gave us a chance to win and we deserve it."
New Jersey, which lost 5-2 to the Wild in St. Paul, Minn., Thursday night, dropped to 9-9-4.
An upbeat Paul Maurice had challenged his team Friday morning to begin stringing some victories together. "Yeah, right on. We’ve got to get going. We’ve had a tough week," he said, following the morning skate. "We’ve got to win some games, for sure."
"Well, some confidence for guys. The puck’s gotta go in the net for players," Maurice said, after the game. "I mean all three of those (by Scheifele) are special shots and skill. What he can do at speed, not a lot of guys can."
The Jets gave their guests from Jersey a rude welcome, as Scheifele, Ehlers and Vesalainen — who had, perhaps, his finest game in the big leagues, scoring his second of the year — solved Bernier before the eight-minute mark of the opening frame.
But the Devils narrowed the gap before the period was done. Damon Severson fired a power-play goal midway through the period and Jack Hughes beat Hellebuyck with just 24 seconds left in the period.
At puck drop to begin the second period, a press-box regular with a flair for pointing out the blatantly obvious suggested "the next goal is key."
The Devils got the next two. Nico Hischier and Ryan Graves scored 39 seconds apart early into the period — amidst a barrage of shots on Hellebuyck — to vault the Devils in front.
Ehlers stopped the bleeding at 10:39, igniting a five-goal explosion. He took a pass in his skates from Dubois, kicked the puck up to his stick and then picked the top shelf on Bernier. Morrissey scored his fourth of the season on a deflection, and then Scheifele raced the length of the ice with the Jets on the power play and fired a shot that squirted through the armpit of the 14-year veteran with just six seconds left.
"Obviously, good since we won the game, but it should have never gotten to that. I think after the 3-0, we stopped playing and gave them time and space to make their plays," Ehlers said. "They are a young and skilled team and they’re going to make those plays. That’s something that we got to, as a team, look at and not let happen again."
Bernier, now with his sixth team, was replaced by MacKenzie Blackwood to start the third period. Midway through, Scheifele completed the hat-trick.
Lowry, with his third of the year, rounded out the scoring for the hosts.
Maurice felt no panic from his squad after its early advantage evaporated.
"I thought we were flat there for probably six or seven minutes after that. But there wasn’t a sense that this had gotten away," he said.
On Sunday, the Jets greet the torrid Toronto Maple Leafs (17-6-1), who will play the second half of a back-to back after a meeting in Minnesota Saturday night. A ceremony is planned to honour Wheeler as he hits the 1,000-game mark.
Toronto touches down in St. Paul riding a five-game winning streak, and leads the NHL with 17 victories.
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).