The Winnipeg Jets finally managed to stop the bleeding and earn a long-awaited, but-expected, playoff berth, while also delivering a near death blow a team with whom they have one of their most heated rivalries in the Canadian Division.
A 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome Wednesday night snapped a losing streak for Winnipeg that had reached an agonizing seven games. It was the longest losing skid since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011, and had many wondering if the Jets were ever going to get out of their slump.
“It gets hard to answer the same questions, to answer ‘What do you do now?’ Because if you’re losing then clearly you don’t have the answer, so it’s nice not to have to answer those questions anymore,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. “More than that, it was a good wake-up call for our team. Our game slipped a little bit; we were still getting some wins and then, ultimately, those turned into losses and then probably halfway through this streak we started playing pretty good again and just weren’t getting the results. It’s really important for our team to get that good feeling back and hopefully we can snowball that into four good games to end the regular season and go into the playoffs with a lot of confidence.”
Winnipeg entered the game tied with the Montreal Canadiens for third place in the Canadian Division. With the Canadiens falling 5-1 to the Ottawa Senators earlier in the night, the Jets (28-21-3) are now in sole possession of third, up two points and with an equal number of games played. The victory also solidifies their place in the post-season, with the Jets either meeting the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.
With the loss, the Flames drop to 22-26-3 and their chances of making the playoffs remain on life support. Calgary can no longer catch Winnipeg and will need to win their remaining five games and hope for the Canadiens to lose their final four to earn a coveted playoff berth.
“It’s nice to put the nail in the coffin seeing as they sent us home from the bubble. It’s always nice to return the favour,” Jets forward Adam Lowry said. “During the slide there were moments where you thought is this thing was never going to end. But we’re glad that’s behind us now and we’re looking forward to continuing to get better and make it to the playoffs.”
In what’s been a challenging couple weeks for the Jets, the chance to nearly put away the same team that eliminated them from the preliminary round of last year’s playoffs must have been sweet. It was secondary to getting back on track, remembering what it was like to add one to the win column.
The Jets got a pair of goals from Lowry and Wheeler; it was the first time Winnipeg has scored at least four goals in a game since beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 back on Apr. 15 – the game before losing seven straight.
Connor Hellebuyck was also in fine form after a couple of tough weeks, which included twice being pulled from the net after ghastly performances. Hellebuyck finished with 32 saves to record his third shutout of the season and improve to 22-16-3. Jacob Markstrom countered for the Flames, giving up four goals on 19 shots.
“It’s weird because I’m not over here thinking we just broke our streak. I’m over here thinking we played a heck of a game and I’m looking forward here. I have no weight at all to what just happened here, it’s almost like I cut the cord and it’s a whole new season now,” Hellebuyck said. “I’m really excited to go forward here and we’re playing some good hockey.”
The Jets wasted little time putting their prints on this one. Lowry made it 1-0 just 69 seconds into the game, going the entire length of the ice and holding onto the puck on an odd-man rush long enough to fool Jacob Markstrom with a shot far side and low.
There was certainly a post-season feel in the opening period, with both clubs playing tight defensively. The frame finished with a combined 12 shots, six from each team, and high-danger chances few and far between.
Hellebuyck didn’t see a shot until the midway mark of the period, but had to stand tall on a chance in close by Elias Lindholm to register his first save. Calgary almost tied the game with minutes remaining in the first; with the Flames on the power play, Andrew Mangiapane had his shot re-directed but Hellebuyck was able to adjust and make the save.
It was another tight-checking affair in the middle period, with neither team generating much offence save for a few opportunities from each side. Shots again were limited, with just five from the Jets and nine from the Flames.
Lowry would be back at it once more, scoring his second of the game — and 10th of the season — on a short-handed breakaway to put the visitors up 2-zip. It was just the second game back in the lineup for Lowry after missing four straight with a neck injury, and he made no mistake on a backhand deke after being sent in free on a pass from Dylan DeMelo.
“Personally, it’s nice to come back and contribute. It was tough last game. I was real excited to come back and on the ice for that goal. That’s kind of not the way you want to leave your first game (against Ottawa),” Lowry said. “Come back here, first shift get us going in the right direction, it feels good and I think you look at special teams tonight, we get one shorthanded and we kill all of theirs. Big power-play goal in the third. It seemed to be going our way tonight.”
The Flames pressed back late in the frame, including a couple opportunities on the power play. Matthew Tkachuk ripped a shot off the post, and a short time later, with Calgary clogging the front of the net, Tkachuk put another shot on net, only for the puck to bounce off a body and roll off the crossbar and out of harm’s way.
On the ensuing breakout, Blake Wheeler, blessed by the hockey gods, jumped on a bobbled puck at the Jets’ blue line in the dying seconds of the period and had an open lane up the right wing. The Jets captain took a page out of Lowry’s book, finding space with a backhanded deke but instead of shovelling it five-hole put it up and over Markstrom’s blocker.
The Jets could finally exhale early in the third period when Wheeler scored his second of the game to put Winnipeg up 4-0. The goal came on what’s been a struggling power play, which prior to the goal had scored just once in 20 chances on the man-advantage.
The goal marked Wheeler’s 800th career point, while Mark Scheifele, who assisted on the goal, got credit for his 500th point.
The Jets return home for their final four games of the regular season, beginning with the Senators Saturday night. They then face the Vancouver Canucks twice, before wrapping up against the first-place Leafs.
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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