Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.
After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.
Already a subscriber?
Already a subscriber?
It wasn’t declared in all caps or with a series of exclamation marks. But the Winnipeg Jets made a bold statement nonetheless Wednesday night, rallying from a sluggish start to beat the reigning Stanley Cup champs 3-1 at Bell MTS Place.
Defenceman Ben Chiarot played the role of unlikely hero, scoring the game-winner with just over seven minutes to play as Winnipeg won its third straight game since the Global Series in Helsinki to improve to 11-5-1. The Washington Capitals, coming off a win in Minnesota 24 hours earlier, fell to 8-7-3.
“It’s always nice to contribute. There wasn’t much to it, it was just a lucky shot,” said the modest Chiarot, whose shot deflected off the stick of Washington’s John Carlson on the way in the net. Chiarot has already reached a career-high in goals just 17 games into the season, and his three tallies lead all Jets blue-liners.
Connor Hellebuyck was the biggest reason for the victory, making 27 saves including a circus-like stop in the final frame with the score still tied. The Jets goalie seemingly defied the laws of gravity by stopping Nicklas Backstrom’s breakaway shot with both his back and glove, plus a little help from his posts. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien also helped out by pulling a bouncing puck off the goal line.
“A lot of panic. Lots of panic. I think Buff saved it to be honest. I think it was going in and he smacked it out and kept that thing on a good line,” said Hellebuyck.
The Jets came out of the gate stuck in quicksand and were lucky to only trail by a goal through 20 minutes. They were beaten to nearly every loose puck, took a pair of penalties and managed to fire a measly two shots on the Capitals net — both of the harmless variety.
The first came nearly 13 minutes into the game, courtesy of a dump in. Considering Washington was playing on back-to-back nights with their backup goalie, Pheonix Copley, the Jets didn’t exactly test him. Expected starter Braden Holtby was scratched due to a last-minute upper-body injury, prompting Washington to sign University of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey goalie coach Gavin McHale as an emergency backup.
“I thought we were a little bit tight with what we did. You were a little late getting them off, a lot blocked. I thought we were a little tentative,” said coach Paul Maurice.
But Winnipeg escaped with minimal damage, as Jakub Vrana was the only Washington shooter who managed to beat Hellebuyck. And it was a beauty, too, as the winger used defenceman Joe Morrow as a perfect screen and fired a shot to the top shelf for his fifth of the year. Winnipegger Madison Bowey got the primary assist on the goal.
One of the Jets infractions was an illegal check to the head delivered by Brandon Tanev to Washington’s leading scorer, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The blow knocked the Russian star out of the game with an upper-body injury, and it will likely be reviewed by the NHL’s department of player safety for potential supplementary discipline.
You knew it was a bad period when the Jets got a late power play and looked absolutely lost during the two minutes. It was a rare sight for the league’s No. 1 unit with the man advantage.
However, they would redeem themselves in the second period when Alexander Ovechkin was sent to the sin bin for tripping. Winnipeg wasted no time tying it up, as Mark Scheifele won the draw, then finished off a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play for his team-leading 10th of the year.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of talented players and a great job all around there. When they take away one option, we take advantage of another one,” said Scheifele.
It took the Jets just seven seconds to score on that power play — marking the third time on this homestand they’ve scored a goal with a man-advantage in less than nine seconds. Last Friday against Colorado Winnipeg struck with the extra player in eight seconds, and then later in the game in seven seconds.
“When you have it happen the first time, and we’ve been good really early on the power plays, it gets into their psyche of being aggressive early. Not pulling it up and trying to slow the power play down. All three have come against teams that are very aggressive off the drop of the puck. We’re pretty quick to get to the positions and get those, I mean that puck was moved quickly and off Mark’s stick very fast,” said Maurice.
Blake Wheeler’s assist on the Scheifele tally extended his point streak to 11 games. The captain has two goals and 18 assists during that stretch.
With the teams trading chances, it was Chiarot who finally connected when his shot knuckled its way through Copley at 12:51 of the third period.
“We’ve been talking about getting on a bit of a roll here. We’re excited, the Stanley Cup champs coming to town you want to bring your best effort. And Helly did a good job of keeping us in it at the beginning and I thought once we got going, got skating, it was a pretty tight game,” said Chiarot.
Winnipeg’s penalty killing went a perfect three-for-three on the night against the NHL’s No. 2 power play, including a huge kill in the last few minutes of the third period while clinging to a one-goal lead.
Kyle Connor then sealed the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute, his eighth of the campaign.
Maurice seemed to spark his team by getting the line blender out to start the second, switching up three of his four groups. He reunited the TLC unit — Tanev with Adam Lowry and Adam Copp — to primarily check the Ovechkin line. Coming up with the winning goal — Tanev set up Chiarot — was an unexpected bonus.
“You know what, they were all excited to be back together. They’re easy to read off for each other. So that energy level, we end up getting another line going in the game and it had an impact,” said Maurice.
Patrik Laine was moved up to play with Bryan Little and Connor, while Mathieu Perreault moved down to skate with Jack Roslovic and Nic Petan.
Winnipeg wraps up its four-game homestand by hosting Buffalo on Friday night. The Jets are 17-1-1 in their past 19 regular-season games at home dating back to last season.
“I thought that was very close to our game. I think there’s a lot of people happy with the way they played tonight. We’ve got to continue building, continue working towards that championship. That’s ideally what we want here,” said Hellebuyck.
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.