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Hats off to Scheifele

 

Minnesota Wild forward Jordan Greenway issued a not-so-subtle warning ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.

Minnesota Wild's Marcus Foligno checks Winnipeg Jets' Cole Perfetti during the first period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Minnesota Wild’s Marcus Foligno checks Winnipeg Jets’ Cole Perfetti during the first period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Just days removed from a spirited affair between the two Central Division rivals back on Feb. 8 — a game that combined for 40 penalty minutes, including three fighting majors, and saw the Jets win 2-0 — Greenway predicted that it was “going to be fun” when asked about the rematch one week later.

“We owe them, for sure,” he continued, “so they better be ready.”

The Jets preferred to stay tight-lipped, not wanting to join the war of words leading up to puck drop. Desperately in need of points to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture, the Jets let their actions do the talking, resulting in a convincing 6-3 victory in front of 12,527 at Canada Life Centre.

It was the first time since Dec. 19 that the Jets were allowed to have full attendance, owing to the loosening of COVID-19 health restrictions, even if it was a few thousand short of a sellout.

“Our group showed a lot of resiliency. We just kept with what we had to do,” Jets interim coach Dave Lowry said. “We did a good job of closing it out. We made a couple of tweaks after the first (period), we got better in our own end and that was something that helped us win.”

Mark Scheifele made the most noise on this night, registering a hat trick to put him at 17 goals on the season. Blake Wheeler had four assists and rookie Cole Perfetti notched a goal and an assist for his second multi-point game of his young NHL career.

Connor Hellebuyck finished with 33 saves, as the Jets improved to 21-18-8. Winnipeg now sits five points back of the Los Angeles Kings for the final wild-card spot. The Wild remain in second place in the Central, falling to 30-12-3 with the loss.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck saves the puck despite players crashing into him during the second period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck saves the puck despite players crashing into him during the second period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

“You knew it was going to come for him. You see how many chances he creates, how many he gets each game. It’s only a matter of time and now it’s coming in waves,” Perfetti said of Scheifele. “We need that for our team. We need a guy like Scheifele to score for us and do that every single night. We’ve been successful after that break and he’s a big reason for that.”

Despite the buildup to the game centring around the physicality of their previous meeting, the first period was pretty tame by comparison. There were no penalties through the opening frame, and while the Jets had some pace to their play, they trailed 1-0 through 20 minutes.

Joel Eriksson Ek opened the scoring at the 10:29 mark, redirecting a Jared Spurgeon shot from the blue line and past an unsuspecting Hellebuyck for his 15th of the season. The Jets are now 7-14-3 when their opponent scores first.

Winnipeg managed to settle in nicely through the second period, with the Jets generating the better scoring chances and keeping the puck out of their net, limiting the visitors to just eight shots.

Scheifele eventually caught fire, continuing his dominant scoring stretch since returning from the NHL all-star break. He potted both of the Jets goals in the period to put the home side up 2-1 after two.

Winnipeg Jets' Pierre-Luc Dubois (80), Josh Morrissey (44), Mark Scheifele (55), Kyle Connor (81) and Blake Wheeler (26) celebrate Scheifele’s second goal of the game against the Minnesota Wild during the second period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Jets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois (80), Josh Morrissey (44), Mark Scheifele (55), Kyle Connor (81) and Blake Wheeler (26) celebrate Scheifele’s second goal of the game against the Minnesota Wild during the second period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Wheeler set up the first goal, with the Jets captain showing off his patience by skating from behind the net and waiting a few seconds before passing through a small opening in front, where Scheifele was on the doorstep. Then in the dying seconds of the period, and with the Jets on the power play, Scheifele picked the top corner on Cam Talbot with a one-timer shot from the left circle.

The Jets top centre had been the target of some heavy criticism for his play prior to the weeklong break, which Scheifele said he used to step away from the game in order to be refreshed for an important second half. He has scored goals in all five games since, totaling 11 points (7G, 4A) over that stretch.

“I just went down south and got some sun, played some golf and spent some time with some buddies. It was a nice refresher,” Scheifele said. “Obviously, the start of the year was a little funky, with COVID, all of the restrictions, that kind of stuff. It was nice to live my life a little bit.”

Scheifele completed the hat trick 1:07 into the third period, following another nice feed from Wheeler for a tap-in marker. It’s the fifth three-goal game of Scheifele’s career.

As for Wheeler, he now has 13 points (3G, 10A) in his past 11 games since returning from a knee injury. Nearly half those points came in a five-point night in a 5-2 road win over Nashville Saturday night.

Winnipeg Jets' Brenden Dillon and Minnesota Wild's Jordan Greenway fight for position in front of Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Jets’ Brenden Dillon and Minnesota Wild’s Jordan Greenway fight for position in front of Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

“The big thing is, and I’ve said it from day one: our best players have to be our best players to win hockey games,” Lowry said of Scheifele and Wheeler’s contributions. “You don’t want to put undue pressure on anybody but that’s reality. These guys relish that role. They relish the responsibility and we’re seeing the benefits of it right now.”

From there, the two sides traded goal for goal, scoring a combined five more by night’s end.

Perfetti would give the Jets a 4-1 cushion, after finding a piece of Nate Schmidt’s shot from the point for his second career goal. After Wild forward Mats Zuccarello trimmed the score to 4-2 with a highlight-reel shot as he was falling to his knees, beating Hellebuyck over his right shoulder, Kyle Connor regained the Jets three-goal edge with a nifty move to the backhand on a breakaway that fooled Talbot five-hole.

With the Wild applying some heavy pressure late, former Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov pounced on a Kirill Kaprizov shot to make it 5-3 with 3:14 still remaining. A Paul Stastny empty-net goal would seal the win and extinguish any chance of a comeback.

The victory should instil some confidence for the Jets after falling to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks, 3-1, Monday night. Minnesota has suffered just two regulation-time losses in their last 14 games, both of which have come against Winnipeg.

The Jets won’t have much of a turnaround before their next game, with the Seattle Kraken in town tonight for a rare back-to-back at home. They wrap up their current four-game homestand Saturday afternoon against Edmonton, before heading out for a four-game road trip.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

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