Expect this one to really sting, although the Winnipeg Jets can't afford to sit and wallow.
The Jets rallied to pull even with the San Jose Sharks and pressed for the winning goal Tuesday night — but Joe Pavelski made them pay.
San Jose’s high-scoring captain deposited his 37th goal of the season behind netminder Connor Hellebuyck with 4.3 seconds left on the clock to lift the Sharks to a 5-4 triumph at Bell MTS Place, the first of three straight on home ice this week for the Jets.
Winnipeg winger Mathieu Perreault’s long deflection of a Tyler Myers point shot with under four minutes left tied the game 4-4. But his 13th goal of the season was really a moot point.
"That sucks. (Four) seconds left in the game, it’s terrible. They played a good game, they’re one of the hottest teams in the league right now. They’ve got a good team. But we gave them a good battle, we were in a tie game until (four) seconds left," said Perreault. "If any positives (come) out of this one, we know we can compete with teams like that."
Energized by the equalizer, the Jets stormed the Sharks end through the final few minutes. But a brilliant defensive play by Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic — he used his reach to break up a cross-ice pass from Nikolaj Ehlers to Andrew Copp — not only snuffed out a scoring chance but sent Pavelski and linemate Timo Meier in on a two-on-one with Jets’ blue-liner Myers inexplicably caught deep.
Meier waited out blue-liner Dmitry Kulikov and fed Pavelski, who jammed in the game-winner past Hellebuyck. It’s the second time he’s played the role of hero in Winnipeg this season. On Feb. 5, he ripped the overtime winner with San Jose short-handed in a 3-2 victory.
"It’s a great play, (Ehlers) trying to make a play to win the game. Kind of unfortunate that it bounces right to their guy for a two-on-one. A great player is trying to make a great play to win the game. That’s what you want. You want him to have the confidence to make that play," said Copp, who scored his 10th goal of the season in the first period, slipping into double-digits for the first time in his career.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice refused to lay specific blame on the late back-breaker.
"Well, we had five guys on the ice and a goalie and we gave up a goal. I’m not putting it on anybody. There’s enough guys out there," he said. "... we can’t turn the puck over and not have an event like that last goal.
"We handed the puck to them too often."
Winnipeg dropped to 40-25-4, while the Sharks posted their sixth consecutive victory, improving to 43-19-8 to remain atop the Western Conference.
The NHL schedule-maker is hurling some hefty waves at the Jets this week, and the squad isn't exactly battening down the hatches to begin the storm surge. The Sharks were afforded plenty of room to hunt, outshooting Winnipeg 36-25.
San Jose's propensity for scoring goals (254) is only surpassed by the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning (272), and Winnipeg didn't show enough respect.
Loose defence play, giveaways in all three zones and some shaky goaltending by Hellebuyck through 40 minutes hurt the hosts, who need to regroup with the Boston Bruins in town Thursday and the Calgary Flames visiting Saturday.
"Up and down, I think," summed up Copp, on the Jets' defensive effort. "We had some good things offensively and in the offensive zone, but we were a little slow to our check in the defensive zone. We needed a little more sense of urgency in that end of the ice."
Copp and Bryan Little, with his 15th, scored 33 seconds apart in the first period on Sharks backup goalie Aaron Dell. Jets forward Kyle Connor provided an early spark in the second period, spinning off the post and lifting the puck to the far top corner for his 27th of the campaign, with the Sharks on the penalty kill.
No Erik Karlsson? No Evander Kane? No cause for concern for San Jose.
The absences of cosmically talented defenceman Karlsson (groin) and brutish point-producing winger Kane (personal leave) have not adversely affected the Sharks. Neither has been available during the winning streak.
Gustav Nyquist, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for a pair of draft picks a day before the trade deadline, scored his 18th and 19th goals of the season.
Vlasic opened the scoring with his second of the season off a goal-mouth scramble, knocking the puck through the wickets. Longtime Sharks centre Joe Thornton drew an assist on the play, the 1,468th point of his 21-year career, to move past legendary Chicago Blackhawks forward Stan Mikita for sole possession of 14th spot on the NHL all-time points list.
Marcus Sorensen broke a 3-3 tie in the third period, rifling home a pass from Thornton.
The Sharks played just 24 hours earlier in Minnesota, shutting out the Wild 3-0 on a 24-save effort from goalie Martin Jones.
"Extremely gutsy (win). We’ve had a lot of guys contribute some big efforts lately, stepping up. We just have to keep winning," said Pavelski.
"That’s the talk, come out and play hard, stick to our systems and do it right and keep winning. Tonight, back-to-back, coming into a tough building, good team, we found a gutsy win for sure."
There was a frightening moment just over six minutes into the game when defenceman Radim Simek’s right leg crumpled after a collision with Copp. The Sharks rookie was helped to the dressing room and did not return.
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).