November 22, 2017

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Record: 12 – 5 – 3

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Winnipeg Jets (12 – 5 – 3)

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Wheeler's 200th the deciding goal in Jets victory over Wild

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55), Blake Wheeler (26) and Jacob Trouba (8) celebrate Wheeler's game winning goal against the Minnesota Wild during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, October 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

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Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55), Blake Wheeler (26) and Jacob Trouba (8) celebrate Wheeler's game winning goal against the Minnesota Wild during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, October 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

They’d been stuck in neutral the past couple of games, unable to take their high-octane offence out for a rip around town. But the Winnipeg Jets found another gear Friday — albeit hitting a few bumps in the road along the way — as they sped past the Minnesota Wild 4-3 at Bell MTS Place.

Blake Wheeler’s first goal of the year — and 200th of his career — with 6:46 left in the final period broke a tie and led the Jets to their fourth win. Kyle Connor made a spectacular play to gain the zone and feed a streaking Wheeler, who deked Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.

It was sweet redemption for the captain, as the Jets had the go-ahead goal wiped out a few minutes earlier after Wheeler was found to have interfered with Dubnyk.

“Just trying to get a win, man,” Wheeler said of his strong drive in the final frame. “You want to score goals that are meaningful. So with that being said, it makes it a little bit extra special. You just want to win games, 200 or not, it’s nice to contribute to a win.”

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They’d been stuck in neutral the past couple of games, unable to take their high-octane offence out for a rip around town. But the Winnipeg Jets found another gear Friday — albeit hitting a few bumps in the road along the way — as they sped past the Minnesota Wild 4-3 at Bell MTS Place.

Blake Wheeler’s first goal of the year — and 200th of his career — with 6:46 left in the final period broke a tie and led the Jets to their fourth win. Kyle Connor made a spectacular play to gain the zone and feed a streaking Wheeler, who deked Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.

It was sweet redemption for the captain, as the Jets had the go-ahead goal wiped out a few minutes earlier after Wheeler was found to have interfered with Dubnyk.

"Just trying to get a win, man," Wheeler said of his strong drive in the final frame. "You want to score goals that are meaningful. So with that being said, it makes it a little bit extra special. You just want to win games, 200 or not, it’s nice to contribute to a win."

It was a milestone night for Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who recorded the 600th win of his career.

"I don’t think there’s a significance to it. Most of them looked just like that. Hold your breath for two-and-a-half hours," Maurice said jokingly following the game.

Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18), Patrik Laine (29) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) and Minnesota Wild's Jonas Brodin (25) look up at the video screen to see if Ehlers' shot got past Wild's goaltender Devan Dubnyk (40) during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, October 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p>

Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18), Patrik Laine (29) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) and Minnesota Wild's Jonas Brodin (25) look up at the video screen to see if Ehlers' shot got past Wild's goaltender Devan Dubnyk (40) during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, October 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Minnesota (1-2-2) was playing for the first time since  Saturday and was without forwards Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund due to injury. With Brendan Lemieux making his NHL debut and Ben Chiarot playing for the first time this season, the Jets seemed to have more than they did in their previous two home games, a sleepy 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and a lacklustre 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Winnipeg’s power play clicked early, as Patrik Laine ripped his patented one-timer past Dubnyk. Mark Scheifele skated the puck into the offensive zone and fed Wheeler, who threaded a perfect pass for Laine. It was just the third power-play goal of the season for the Jets — the same number of goals they’ve scored short-handed.

Nikolaj Ehlers made it 2-0 less than two minutes later. Defenceman Toby Enstrom found him alone in the slot, and Ehlers made no mistake for his team-leading sixth of the year.

Much of the focus Friday was on Lemieux’s first game. But it was another son of a former NHL star who nearly got Minnesota on the board, as Landon Ferraro (Ray Ferraro’s son) was sent in on a breakaway only to be denied by Connor Hellebuyck.

The Wild got on the board in the final minute of the first. Chris Stewart crushed Josh Morrissey with a heavy hit behind the Jets net, then parked himself in front of Hellebuyck and got a pass after Jacob Trouba turned the puck over. Stewart beat Hellebuyck high while Morrissey was still hunched over in pain and unable to cover him.

Maurice said after the game he thought Stewart should have been penalized.

Minnesota tied it midway through the second as a bad pinch by Trouba led to a three-on-one. Jason Zucker fed it over to captain Mikko Koivu, who beat Hellebuyck with a backhander.

The Wild took the lead late in the frame while Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was in the box for hooking. Tyler Myers had a chance to clear the puck but threw it right back to Minnesota defenceman Mike Reilly, whose point shot was tipped by Marcus Foligno past Hellebuyck.

Laine got it back in the final minute of the second, as his power-play slapper hit a Minnesota stick on its way past Dubnyk. Lemieux had done some good work on the previous shift to draw a slashing penalty. Laine is now up to four goals on the year.

"That’s kind of my job on the PP, to find a way and get a shot off," Laine said.

Winnipeg’s second-period woes are becoming an early story once again this season. They’ve now surrendered 13 of their 26 goals in the middle frame, while scoring just six of their 22 goals in that 20-minute window. It’s a similar problem to last season, when the Jets gave up a league-worst 94 goals in the second while scoring just 71. 

"I really liked the way we started the hockey game. We weren’t pleased with the way it slid in the second, we felt maybe more self-inflicted, some things that we stopped doing that we got right back to in the third and played our best in the last 20, which is really important," said Maurice.

"We got big performances out of our drivers, (who) really became the best players on the ice and won the game for us."

The Jets appeared to take the lead with just more than 11 minutes left in the third. Wheeler drove hard to the net with the puck, and Scheifele poked the rebound past Dubnyk. Minnesota challenged for goalie interference, arguing Wheeler made contact with Dubnyk. After a few minutes of video review the referees agreed and waved off the goal.

Wheeler made no mistake with his game-winner just a few minutes later.

"It was a strong third. We kind of lost the momentum there after a good start and we were fighting it a little bit," Wheeler said. 

Hellebuyck made 24 saves to improve to 4-0-0 in his four starts this season. Only four of those shots came in the third period as the Jets clamped down.

"You know what, I’m happy with the win and the guys prevailed for me," Hellebuyck said following the game.

"I think we managed the third period really well."

Winnipeg doesn’t play again until Thursday in Pittsburgh.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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History

Updated on Friday, October 20, 2017 at 11:12 PM CDT: Writethrough

October 21, 2017 at 7:04 AM: Typo fixed.

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