June 20, 2019

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Bolts are nuts

Lightning keep ridiculous season rolling with 5-2 win over Jets

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy can't reach the puck on a goal by Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler after Wheeler got past defenseman Ryan McDonagh during the first period Tuesday, in Tampa.

(AP PHOTO/CHRIS O'MEARA)

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy can't reach the puck on a goal by Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler after Wheeler got past defenseman Ryan McDonagh during the first period Tuesday, in Tampa.

TAMPA – It was a knock-out punch from the NHL's undisputed top heavyweight contender.

Down one goal and one player due to a penalty, the Winnipeg Jets were going to need a little luck to keep Tuesday night's game with the Tampa Bay Lightning in reach. Instead, the league's top scorer in Nikita Kucherov ripped a blast right off the mask of goalie Connor Hellebuyck, leaving him dazed and cut on the play.

Hellebuyck had to go to the room for repairs, forcing an ice-cold Laurent Brossoit to come in off the bench. A Steven Stamkos one-timer just 15 seconds later and it was game, set, match. The Stamkos goal proved to be the game-winner as Tampa Bay beat Winnipeg 5-2 at Amalie Arena, putting even more distance between them and the rest of the league.

"I think, when a guy comes in off the bench, and you’re frozen and facing the top power play in the league, we can probably maybe do a little bit more to help him. Obviously they’ve got some guys who can rip the puck. Guy hit a pretty good shot," is how Jets captain Blake Wheeler would sum up the unfortunate turn of events for his club.

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TAMPA – It was a knock-out punch from the NHL's undisputed top heavyweight contender.

Down one goal and one player due to a penalty, the Winnipeg Jets were going to need a little luck to keep Tuesday night's game with the Tampa Bay Lightning in reach. Instead, the league's top scorer in Nikita Kucherov ripped a blast right off the mask of goalie Connor Hellebuyck, leaving him dazed and cut on the play.

Hellebuyck had to go to the room for repairs, forcing an ice-cold Laurent Brossoit to come in off the bench. A Steven Stamkos one-timer just 15 seconds later and it was game, set, match. The Stamkos goal proved to be the game-winner as Tampa Bay beat Winnipeg 5-2 at Amalie Arena, putting even more distance between them and the rest of the league.

"I think, when a guy comes in off the bench, and you’re frozen and facing the top power play in the league, we can probably maybe do a little bit more to help him. Obviously they’ve got some guys who can rip the puck. Guy hit a pretty good shot," is how Jets captain Blake Wheeler would sum up the unfortunate turn of events for his club.

Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with teammates, including centre Mark Scheifele and defenceman Jacob Trouba, during the first period Tuesday.

(AP PHOTO/CHRIS O'MEARA)

Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with teammates, including centre Mark Scheifele and defenceman Jacob Trouba, during the first period Tuesday.

"We got a game that can beat those guys. We tried to play their game. That’s not going to work for us. It is what it is, we’ve been playing some good hockey."

Indeed, Winnipeg was coming off impressive wins over Nashville and Columbus but couldn't get in gear against a Tampa team that is now a ridiculous 51-12-4 on the year. Winnipeg falls to 39-23-4 and into second place in the Central Division, one point behind Nashville which won Tuesday night. The Jets do have three games in hand on the Predators.

It's no secret the Lightning can be a handful when their stars shine. But throw in contributions from some of the lesser-known names on the roster – while giving them multiple power play opportunities – and they become nearly impossible to beat.

That's what happened Tuesday as Tampa Bay got a two goals from their fourth line and two more with the man-advantage.

"Obviously when you give them a power play they’re going to make you pay. They’ve got a lot of skill and they made us pay when we made mistakes," said centre Mark Scheifele. "They work it really well. Their structure is really good and they put some pretty good players on it. Being in the right spots, it’s tough to stop."

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Sami Niku carries the puck ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh during the first period Tuesday.

(AP PHOTO/CHRIS O'MEARA)

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Sami Niku carries the puck ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh during the first period Tuesday.

Yeah, the big guns showed up. Top-line winger Yanni Gourde scored on a breakaway, Stamkos got his goal and Brayden Point notched his team-leading 37th.

But it was the unheralded Adam Erne who fired the go-ahead goal midway through the second period, while sparkplug Cedric Paquette had the dagger early in the third to put Tampa Bay's latest victory to bed.

"I think throughout the league you’re seeing that. Every line is potent and has the ability to score goals. Their team is no different. They roll four good lines and they can all make you pay," said defenceman Jacob Trouba.

Winnipeg was without the services of shutdown centre Adam Lowry (suspended) and two top defencemen in Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien. And they certainly held their own through the first half of the game.

After Gourde opened the scoring just 1:34 into the opening period, Wheeler tied it up just over five minutes later. It's the sixth goal (and eighth point) in the past three games for Wheeler, who had a career-best four goals on Sunday night in Columbus. 

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck wipes his face after getting cut by a shot that hit him on the mask during the second period Tuesday.

(AP PHOTO/CHRIS O'MEARA)

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck wipes his face after getting cut by a shot that hit him on the mask during the second period Tuesday.

Patrik Laine once again took on the role of playmaker, giving Wheeler a perfect feed on a two-on-one rush. We know Laine's hands are good for scoring goals, but it was another reminder of how well he can pass the puck, too.

The cream began to rise to the top in the middle frame. After Erne gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead at 8:58 of the period off a two-on-one rush, the Hellebuyck injury, Brossoit replacement and subsequent Stamkos goal at 14:26 marked a significant turning point.

Hellebuyck returned to the game a few minutes later, apparently none the worse for wear.

"It’s always scary, definitely, to see him fall over like that, backwards. It’s a hard shot coming right at his head. He’s a tough customer and the way he bounced back from that, he played outstanding. He’s been great for us all year. He’s a tough guy," said Trouba.

Down two entering the final period, the Jets were looking for some kind of break to get back in it. But it was Paquette who gave the home team some breathing room just 4:20 in when he buried a feed from linemate Mathieu Joseph, who swept a puck from behind the Jets net right on to his stick. The fourth line had struck again.

The Tampa Bay Lightning's Yanni Gourde beats Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck in the first period.

(DIRK SHADD/TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS)

The Tampa Bay Lightning's Yanni Gourde beats Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck in the first period.

"Obviously that third goal hurts. And then they get the fourth one, obviously that’s a little more wind out of the sails," said Trouba.

Paquette made another impactful play, crushing Dmitry Kulikov with a hit a few minutes later and drawing a retaliatory slashing penalty from the Jets defenceman. Stamkos to Kucherov to Point made it a 5-1 game just like that, as Tampa's power play finished the game 2-for-4.

Winnipeg got one back late in the period off a bizarre bounce. Trouba scored from centre ice on the power play, as his dump-in attempt struck the glass and curled straight into the empty-net, as Andrei Vasilevskiy was going to try and play it behind the goal.

"It's not really the way you want to score a goal. Especially in the kind of game like that. I guess it would be more fun if we’d have won the game," said Trouba.

Winnipeg is now 1-1-0 on this four-game road trip. The Jets return to action Friday night in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes, then finish it Sunday by taking on the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

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Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
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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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History

Updated on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 at 10:39 PM CST: Full write through

11:10 PM: Fixes photo captions.

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