February 24, 2018

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Scheifele takes control as Jets snap skid

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele scores on Washington Capitals' goaltender Braden Holtby during the first period, Tuesday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele scores on Washington Capitals' goaltender Braden Holtby during the first period, Tuesday.

Mark Scheifele is back in business — and just in the nick of time.

The Winnipeg centre scored short-handed with just 14 seconds left in regulation time, then orchestrated Tyler Myers’ overtime winner as the Jets rallied for a 4-3 triumph over the visiting Washington Capitals.

Officially, Scheifele returned to the lineup Friday after being sidelined for 16 games with a suspected shoulder injury. Unspectacular would best describe his performance against the St. Louis Blues — although he wasn’t alone in that regard. On Sunday, he showed steady improvement and spurts of genius against the New York Rangers.

But he showcased his inestimable worth to the Central Division club in his third game back as the Jets (33-15-9) grabbed victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat to halt a two-game losing skid.

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Mark Scheifele is back in business — and just in the nick of time.

The Winnipeg centre scored short-handed with just 14 seconds left in regulation time, then orchestrated Tyler Myers’ overtime winner as the Jets rallied for a 4-3 triumph over the visiting Washington Capitals.

Officially, Scheifele returned to the lineup Friday after being sidelined for 16 games with a suspected shoulder injury. Unspectacular would best describe his performance against the St. Louis Blues — although he wasn’t alone in that regard. On Sunday, he showed steady improvement and spurts of genius against the New York Rangers.

But he showcased his inestimable worth to the Central Division club in his third game back as the Jets (33-15-9) grabbed victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat to halt a two-game losing skid.

"I was just really pumped for (Scheifele). No matter how self-confident you are (and you try to) block out the noise, he’s human," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. "We win a bunch of games when he’s out, he comes back, we lose two. He probably feels that a little bit.

"I felt so happy for him that he was able to not just play well but make a huge impact on the game and score a shorty to tie the game with 15 seconds left. Man, that’s big-time stuff."

The Kitchener, Ont., product, who also opened the scoring, said his game is starting to round into form after that six-week stretch of not playing.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler and Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen fight for position in front of goaltender Braden Holtby during the first period.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler and Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen fight for position in front of goaltender Braden Holtby during the first period.

"Obviously every game I’m feeling better, every shift I’m feeling better," said Scheifele.

"When you’re playing with a guy like (Wheeler) he makes it easy for you, he’s pretty consistent in making the right reads and the right plays over and over and it makes it easy for me to get my timing back. I thought (Mathieu Perreault) did a good job, and (Kyle Connor) did a good job as well. It’s obviously nice to have linemates like that."

Scheifele, a month shy of his 25th birthday, flashed his scoring ability, ripping his 16th and 17th tallies of the season past Caps’ goalie Braden Holtby, and setting up numerous opportunities for his teammates, including a nifty pass to Josh Morrissey in OT that was kicked out at the last minute and a perfect feed to Myers for his sixth goal of the season at 2:35 of the extra session.

He was a force in the Washington end all night long, hounding defenders for loose pucks, crashing the net and taking a beating in the process while playing alongside Wheeler and Perreault to begin the game, and late with the captain and Connor.

"It’s not like (Scheifele) coming back had a negative impact on the team. It was just we weren’t playing great as a whole the last two games," said centre Bryan Little, whose 12th goal of the season with 8:30 left in the third period after a give-and-go with rookie Jack Roslovic trimmed Washington’s lead to 3-2.

"How can you complain now? He was great tonight and he was a big reason we won that game."

The Jets racked up an impressive 11-2-3 record without the organization’s first-ever draft choice. Wheeler did yeoman’s work after being moved up the middle in Scheifele’s absence.

But Winnipeg’s reliance on Scheifele, who has 42 points in 41 games, can’t be understated.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers carries the puck in front of Washington Capitals' John Carlson during the second period in Winnipeg, Tuesday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers carries the puck in front of Washington Capitals' John Carlson during the second period in Winnipeg, Tuesday.

"It was awesome... hasn’t taken him long to get back to his normal self," said Myers.

"I thought he really led the way with guys like Blake Wheeler and Matty Perreault."

Scheifele’s game-opening tally in the first period was the byproduct of a slick move by defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who spun to escape the check of Andre Burakovsky and then tossed the puck to the net.

His tying goal was considered a short-handed effort with Byfuglien serving two minutes for a slash on Jay Beagle that prevented a certain comeback-killing empty-netter. Head Coach Paul Maurice had pulled netminder Connor Hellebuyck in favour of an extra skater to give his club a chance five-on-five.

While Myers coughed up the puck at key times earlier in the game, he made a heads-up play on the winning goal.

"(Myers) made a good play, beat the first guy, (Alex Ovechkin) looked a little flat-footed, so I thought I’d try him, and he’s a big dude so trying to get around him is tough, so looked to my right and saw (Myers) driving down the seam, great awareness by him," said Scheifele.

Burakovsky, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson scored for the Capitals (32-18-6).

Holtby finished with 40 saves, while Hellebuyck stopped 24 shots.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan</p><p>Winnipeg Jets players celebrate after Mark Scheifele scored on Washington Capitals' goaltender Braden Holtby during first period, Tuesday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Winnipeg Jets players celebrate after Mark Scheifele scored on Washington Capitals' goaltender Braden Holtby during first period, Tuesday.

Jets centre Matt Hendricks took a high hit without the puck from Capitals rookie defenceman and Winnipeg product Madison Bowey and slumped to the ice about seven minutes into the second period. The veteran forward was ushered down the tunnel for some time in the quiet room as part of the NHL’s protocol, and did not return.

Maurice had to improvise with his line combinations, not only because of the injury to Hendricks but more to light a fire under his club after a lacklustre second period.

"(Roslovic) was really good and strong. That (Little) goal changes everything for us, just the hope and the belief. Just a hard play along the wall, made the play and then Bryan’s quick and he caught up to him, so that speed, a real nice set of hands for him. He was good all night," said Maurice.

"We had Perreault and Scheif and Wheeler driving, but I had to break them up because there was just nothing else going. I thought Bryan was going pretty good and Jack was going well, so I put those two guys together."

Maurice said Roslovic will stick with Little and Perreault for the time being.  

Winnipeg is 4-2-1 on its protracted 10-game homestand, which continues Friday when the Jets host the Colorado Avalanche. 

Maurice said the gutsy, come-from-behind triumph came as a huge relief.

"We got to a real good emotional level in that game, kind of built to it. We needed a game like that, where you just didn’t take it, you fought back and had a good result on that. So the emotional part was good," he said.

"The guys that made it happen were the guys that were driving all night. So they get some payback for that, too."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell .

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History

Updated on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 10:11 PM CST: adds thumbnail

11:15 PM: Full write through

February 14, 2018 at 7:12 AM: Updated

7:23 AM: Headline fixed.

8:58 AM: Corrects typos, adds context

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