The Winnipeg Jets may not have earned many style points Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, but they did manage to leave with the two points that mattered most.
Indeed, despite the Canadiens being the faster and better team for much of the evening, it was the Jets who left with the valuable two points in the standings, scratching and crawling to a 2-1 overtime victory.
Paul Stastny poked home a Nikolaj Ehlers shot that was trickling towards the goal line just 36 seconds into the extra frame, ending what had been an onslaught by the Canadiens, particularly in the third period. Winnipeg went back to a three-forward lineup for OT, with Kyle Connor joining Stastny and Ehlers.
Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck was the clear star for the Jets, turning in a 40-save night to improve to 10-5-1.
"I thought today, Montreal was the better team. We got lucky, Montreal hit a couple posts, (Hellebuyck) was unbelievable for us. He didn’t give up a lot of rebounds, he was fighting through traffic and kind of controlling everything," Stastny said after the game. "Obviously he’s the reason we got the two points tonight. You’re going to have games like that. When things aren’t going your way you just got to find a way. Whether you get a point or two points, sometimes you grind those wins out or sometimes you grind those overtime points out, and tonight was a perfect example of that."
The victory extended the Jets winning streak to a season-high four games, improving their overall record to 13-6-1 – good enough for third place in the all-Canadian division, one point behind the Edmonton Oilers but with three games in hand. It also improved the Jets to a perfect 4-0 in overtime this season.
The Canadiens continued their streak of agony, now at five straight losses and seven in the last eight. Montreal is 0-1-1 since firing head coach Claude Julien, losing back-to-back games against Winnipeg, including a 6-3 loss Thursday night.
Just how bad did things get for the Jets? Consider this: shots favoured Montreal, 41-21, as well as shot attempts, at a whopping 78-38 in favour of the Canadiens.
"They had the advantage, I felt, in both games. And it is Montreal. So in any Canadian city, there's a different kind of pressure on the team and the coaches. That's just a fact. So they had that advantage. I thought we were really good handling it in the first game," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "But I thought they were just better than we were. They were on us so fast and their sticks were better, they were more physical. We would dump a puck in and they would clean out, they would dump a puck in and it was in our end. So we had a lot of miles on our back end tonight and it started to show as the game went on. They had a distinct advantage."
The first period proved to be uneventful, with neither side able to find the back of the net. The Canadiens were the better team through 20 minutes, doubling the Jets in shots, 14-7.
The best chance came in the early moments, when Montreal defenceman Alexander Romanov’s slap shot beat Connor Hellebuyck but couldn’t beat the crossbar, the puck flying off the iron and into the empty stands. But unlike Thursday night’s game, where the Jets fell behind 2-0 after the opening frame, Winnipeg managed to escape the period unscathed.
Winnipeg started to gain momentum early in the second. A Shea Weber tripping penalty on Mark Scheifele sent the Jets to the power play, leading to a couple quality chances by Connor.
But Connor couldn’t find pay dirt. His first shot rung off the crossbar and his second chance in close was denied by Canadiens goalie Jake Allen, who got the start instead of Carey Price and made 19 saves on the night. Shortly after the penalty, Romanov sent a shot from the point, only to hit the crossbar for the second time in the game.
The Jets would find themselves on the man-advantage once again a short time later, as Montreal defenceman Jeff Petry was called for interference on Trevor Lewis. That would lead to another pair of scoring chances for Connor, as well as a shot in tight by Stastny, all of which went unrewarded.
A third trip to the power play would prove to be the charm. Lined up at the left defenceman spot on the man-advantage, Ehlers pounced on a draw won by Andrew Copp before snapping home a shot top-left corner, past a screened Allen. The goal was Ehler’s 11th, putting him in a tie with Scheifele for the team lead.
Right when it looked as though the Jets would take a lead into the break, the Canadiens capitalized on some puck luck to even the score, 1-1, through 40 minutes.
Nick Suzuki delivered a hard shot from behind the net that somehow squeezed through the pad of Hellebuyck and into the back of the net. The goal – Suzuki’s fifth – came shortly after a couple of good saves from Hellebuyck, including a drive from former Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot.
"It was one of those goals that you could do that 99 out of 100 times and it’s not going to go in. I got caught on the one, which seems to be a theme this year, but I felt good in the game and just followed it up on the save to add momentum to me," Hellebuyck said. "I like the way I’ve been playing and I liked the way tonight went. I’m pretty happy with the outcome."
Seemingly destined to snap a four-game losing streak, the Canadiens continued to put their foot on the gas in the third period. Already trailing Montreal in shots, 27-16, after two periods, Winnipeg wouldn’t register their first shot on goal in the third frame until the midway mark. Hellebuyck once again stood tall, giving Winnipeg at least the chance to salvage a point in extra time.
Instead, they stole both.
"To win that game, you need a couple of things to happen. You need your goaltender to be as good as Connor was tonight – and he was fantastic," Maurice said. "And then you need a little bit of skill at the right time. A little bit of finish at the right time."
The Jets wrap up their current four-game homestand with back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks. After that, the Jets will morph into road warriors, with 12 of their next 14 games away from Bell MTS Place.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.