Jets fall to Leafs 2-1 in shootout

Who says low-scoring games don’t generate high drama?

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets, a pair of premier squads in the NHL’s North Division, produced compelling 65-minute theatre Friday night in downtown Winnipeg.

Locked 1-1 after three back-and-forth periods and a chaotic overtime, the standoff was finally settled in a shootout. Leafs’ veteran centre Jason Spezza deked out goalie Connor Hellebuyck on his club’s first opportunity to solidify a 2-1 victory and the full two points.

Hellebuyck was brilliant in his league-leading 30th start, turning aside 37 shots including five in overtime for Winnipeg, now 22-13-3.

“Par for the course. I think he’s the best in the league, and we’re lucky to have him,” said Andrew Copp, the Jets’ lone goal scorer. “I think he makes big save after big save, especially on that penalty kill in overtime. He’s just so solid back there and we have all the confidence in the world in him. It’s nothing we didn’t already know, but it just further shows just how elite he is.”

Across the ice, Toronto goalie Jack Campbell stopped Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois in the shootout, while Mark Scheifele fired wide.

Campbell, who blocked 31 shots, is on a sensational run, winning eight consecutive starts for the first-place Leafs, now 24-10-3.

After a scoreless first period, Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott and Copp traded goals in the second frame.

Jason Spezza scores in the shootout to give the Leafs a 2-1 victory. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Jason Spezza scores in the shootout to give the Leafs a 2-1 victory. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Rarely is a 1-1 deadlock as wide open and entertaining, however, Jets head coach Paul Maurice and his captain, Blake Wheeler, were most impressed with some sound work by the club in its own end.

“We were focused on the other end of the ice tonight. We did a good job in our defensive zone. We checked them extremely well. If their goal is going to be a knuckler from the point that just finds its way, so be it. Our goaltender was outstanding tonight. Some of those saves in overtime were just incredible. Hats off to our back end — they played great tonight,” said Wheeler.

The third period was lively, with very few whistles. Campbell made a sprawling pad save to steal a goal from Connor, and then John Tavares went in alone but flipped the puck over the net.

“I think there’s two teams with a lot of firepower up front that are trying to pay a better defensive game, maybe, than they did last year,” said Maurice. “While there wasn’t the free-flowing offence that we’ve seen in the past between Toronto and Winnipeg, there was quality offence in kind of bursts out there where the goalies were the difference.”

The Jets had a solid bounce-back effort after a slow start Wednesday and an eventual 3-1 defeat to the Leafs as they returned home following a season-long seven-game road trip.

“Not that far off. I mean, a 1-1 game goes into overtime and a shootout. Last game, I think we weren’t our best in the first period, but outside of that I think we really liked our game,” added Copp. “It’s going to be back and forth the entire year we feel like. We have a lot of confidence in our group so if we end up in a playoff series against them at some point we will be confident in our team and go from there.”

In overtime, Dubois was stripped of the puck, hauled down blue-liner Justin Holl and was assessed a tripping minor at 1:27, giving the Leafs a four-on-three advantage. But the Jets penalty killers did their job, influenced heavily by Hellebuyck who made three huge stops.

Dermott broke a scoreless tie 5:16 into the second period with his second goal of the year on a wrister from the point that might have changed directions, catching Hellebuyck off guard.

“I mean, it would seem that way. I’m still trying to figure it out, because I didn’t feel it and that seems like a pretty routine save,” said Hellebuyck, whose record is 17-10-3 this year. He owns a 2.53 goals-against average and a flashy .920 save percentage.

Andrew Copp scores his 12th of the season, a career high. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Andrew Copp scores his 12th of the season, a career high. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

“I don’t know, I’ll have to watch video because I don’t really know how it got through me or by me or whatever happened,” he added.

That sparked the Leafs, who nearly increased their cushion on the next shift, with solid opportunities by Tavares and William Nylander that were turned aside by Hellebuyck.

Paul Stastny had a premium chance with about nine minutes left in the period but fanned on a shot after Wheeler put the puck on a tee for him on a two-on-one break. Less than a minute later, a pair of third-liners showed how to execute on an odd-man rush, as Adam Lowry set up Copp for his career-high 12th of the season.

A bright spot of the opening period was a late shift by the Jets fourth line, which generated nine shot attempts and forced Campbell to turn three aside during about 55 seconds of sustained offensive-zone pressure.

Maurice’s reliance on Nate Thompson, Mathieu Perreault and Trevor Lewis continues to grow stronger. The veteran trio has yet to surrender an even-strength goal this season.

Lewis and Thompson, meanwhile, were key on the penalty kill, helping shut the Leafs down on three chances with the man advantage, including a frenetic two minutes in overtime.

“Three great pros. Such a great luxury for our team and for Paul to be able to put them on the ice in any situation. I think some of the places he uses them, late in tight games, it shows you the amount of confidence he has in all three guys,” said Wheeler. “It’s not an easy job to maybe not play the amount of minutes they deserve or could play but they bring a ton of energy and a great attitude every night. Invaluable part of our locker room for sure.”

Even with an abundance of deadly force, the Leafs have failed to score on their last 26 power-play chances in 10 games. The Jets shut them down eight times in the two-game set.

“We just come away from these games with I think an even greater respect for (the Jets) and what they’re capable of, and just how good we need to be to beat them in regulation,” said Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe.

The Ottawa Senators pay a visit Monday night, a game originally slated for May 7 but jammed into the space created when a pair of matchups with the Vancouver Canucks was postponed.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
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).

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