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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Connor Hellebuyck finally has his goose egg – naturally against the Ducks.
The Winnipeg goalie posted his first shutout of the season as the Jets won their fourth consecutive game, a 3-0 decision against hapless Anaheim here Wednesday night.
Hellebuyck was perfect on 29 shots in his 55th start of the 2018-19 NHL campaign, his finest saves coming on a point-blank drive by Nick Ritchie in the second period and a sprawling leg stop on the Ducks leading scorer Jakob Silfverberg in a goal-mouth scramble midway through the third.
The 25-year-old masked man had six shutouts a year ago when he was named one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s top goalie. He now has an even dozen over his four-year career in Winnipeg.
“It’s awesome. It’s a monkey off my back,” he said, following the Jets’ fourth consecutive triumph. “But you know what? It’s a testament to the guys in here and how well they played, blocking shots. The details were right.”
Mark Scheifele’s 35th goal of the season with the Jets on the man advantage held up for two periods, while Kyle Connor added his 29th and Nikolaj Ehlers fired his 19th in the final frame.
Defenceman Jacob Trouba finished with a pair of assists and was an absolute workhorse, playing 21 minutes, 33 seconds including more than five minutes on the penalty kill.
The Jets penalty killers were on point, snuffing out four Ducks chances.
Central Division-leading Winnipeg raised its record to 44-25-4, widening its lead to three points on the idle Nashville Predators. The Ducks, who will miss the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign, fell to 30-36-9.
Winnipeg continued its stingy ways early in the game, refusing to allow a shot until winger Max Jones tested Hellebuyck at the 9:51 mark. Two nights earlier in Los Angeles, the Kings managed just two shots on Laurent Brossoit in the final period as Winnipeg posted a 3-2 win at Staples Center.
“It’s been a while since it’s been like that. It’s a warmer rink so you don’t really feel cold out there. I was kind of in the zone right from the start,” Hellebuyck said, on the long stretch of inactivity to begin the night. “It makes me realize that I’m going to be needed at some point because everyone’s gotta do their job, and I feel I answered the bell and the guys in front of me made it easy for me and allowed me to see things.”
The Jets have yielded just six goals during a run of victories over the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, L.A. Kings and Ducks.
Head coach Paul Maurice credited his club for getting through another plodding affair, one that lacked offensive sizzle from the visitors but highlighted their defensive strengths.
“We had really good sticks and knocked an awful lot down, made some blocks,” he said. “But, it seemed there was some chaos. It was hard getting a handle for both teams, getting a handle on the puck, but our defensive sticks were good and disrupted a lot of plays from them getting to the net.
“Maybe they’re not smooth (wins) but they’re beautiful because at this time of year that’s the way the game is going to look. And if you’re assessing your team’s performance… expecting it to be easy, it’s foolish and you’ll never be happy. It’s that time of year. They’re all going to be hard fought.”
Scheifele opened the scoring with his 80th point of the season with Ducks forward Corey Perry serving a high-sticking penalty. The Jets have a power-play goal in each of their last five games.
Trouba’s point shot sailed wide but Connor grabbed the puck off the back boards and pulled it in front, and his centre cashed in at 15:56.
Connor upped the lead to 2-0 at 4:25 of the third, deflecting a drive by Tyler Myers past Ducks goalie John Gibson. Ehlers boosted the visitors’ cushion just 2:42 later with a shot from a bad angle that caught Gibson napping.
“It was a great pass from (Joe Morrow). I thought that the goalie wasn’t going to be ready for a shot from out there, so I took a chance,” said Ehlers.
Anaheim is among the NHL’s worst squads, a team clearly in the early stages of a rebuild. Just about the only characteristic it demonstrated was a lack of understanding of the rule book, opting for a brutish approach that resulted in a parade to the penalty box.
But the Jets power-play unit was ineffective on four of five chances, including a pair of tire fires in the middle frame when a goal likely would have annihilated the collective will of a fragile squad like Anaheim. Scheifele had trouble winning draws to start the man-advantage tries, zone entries were sloppy and passes went astray.
“I don’t know if it’s frustration but our power play, we think, operates a little better on a lot of nights,” said Maurice. “But it got the game winner so you have to be careful of how hard you are on it.”
Perry, a guy Jets fans take great pleasure in detesting, was at his annoying best. But his antics caught the attention of referees Marc Joannette and Garrett Rank. He was assessed three minor penalties and got into a short scrap with Morrow, who just returned to the lineup after missing 14 games with a lower-body injury.
Morrow, replaced injured rear-guard Nathan Beaulieu, who suffered an undisclosed injury Monday against the Kings. He’s listed as day to day.
Winnipeg closes out a three-game southern swing Thursday night in Vegas against the sizzling Golden Knights, who’ve defeated nine of their last 10 opponents. The Jets are 2-0 this year against the second-year squad after posting a 4-1 victory at home Jan. 15 and a 6-3 win Feb. 22 at T-Mobile Arena near The Strip.
They return to the Manitoba capital for their last regular-season home stand, beginning with a Saturday night scuffle with their division rivals from Music City.
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).