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LAS VEGAS – The Winnipeg Jets weren’t in California any more.
The Jets cruised to a couple of victories against the lowly Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks earlier this week but were in a duel with a foe from a different stratosphere Thursday night.
While the playoff hopes of the So-Cal clubs fizzled out long ago, the Vegas Golden Knights are sizzling and resemble a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in every way.
The high-rollers from The Strip struck early and often in front of a wild T-Mobile Arena crowd, skating away with a 5-0 triumph over the Jets in a surprising Western Conference mismatch. It was the Golden Knights’ 10th win in their last 11 games.
Vegas, undeniably bigger, faster and stronger on this night, upped its record in the Pacific Divsion to 42-27-5, while Winnipeg dropped to 44-26-4 but still has a two-point edge in the Central Division on the second-place Nashville Predators with a game in hand. Nashville fell 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout Thursday.
William Karlsson fired his 21st and 22nd goals and Reilly Smith supplied his 16th and 17th as Vegas halted Winnipeg’s four-game winning streak on a night when Jets starter Laurent Brossoit let a couple of shots leak through. He was replaced by Connor Hellebuyck in the middle period with the hosts up 3-0.
Tomas Nosek’s short-handed tally signalled the end of Brossoit’s night.
Star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is on the mend, so Malcolm Subban received the start for the Golden Knights and turned aside all 20 shots he faced to register the first-ever shutout of his NHL career.
No disrespect to the young netminder but Winnipeg didn’t exactly make him work for it. Just 24 hours after blanking the Ducks, the Jets struggled mightily through 40 minutes, and had nothing left in the tank for any kind of late push from which to draw some positive vibes.
The Golden Knights, powered by as formidable a forward group as any in the NHL, were tenacious on the forecheck and heavy on the body. They knocked down pucks with regularity, making it difficult for the Jets to break out. The visitors barely had room to move in the neutral zone, and when they finally had possession deep in enemy territory they were kept to the perimeter by a smart Vegas squad.
The anthems – including a boisterous ‘True North’ bark from fans from the Great White North – were barely over when Blake Wheeler and newest Knight, Mark Stone, dropped the mitts. The Jets captain scored a takedown over the Winnipeg product at the 29-second mark – a microscopic victory in the scheme of things.
Less than a minute after the flying fists, the hosts drew first blood where it really mattered – on the scoreboard. Karlsson, well behind last year’s pace when he fired 43 goals, scored on an absolute gift from Brossoit. Karlsson wheeled from the corner and released a shot from a bad angle that bounced in off Brossoit’s pad at 1:24.
All the good defensive deeds the Jets performed during their first two stops of the southern swing were nowhere to be found. They under duress all night long and served up some ugly giveaways.
Yes, you Joe Morrow, Andrew Copp and Tyler Myers.
Morrow, playing just his second game after missing 14 with an injury, fumbled the puck at the faceoff dot and ex-Jet Paul Stastny quickly set up Smith for a 2-0 lead before the midway mark of the opening period.
In the second, Stastny sent Nosek scampering away on a semi-breakway with Vegas a man short. Nosek’s shot from the top of the circle squeezed through Brossoit at the six-minute mark. Hellebuyck fared no better in relief as Reilly and Karlsson each ripped their second goals of the game to build a five-goal cushion.
Winnipeg had allowed only six goals in his four previous outings.
The Jets return to Winnipeg for their last four home games of the regular season. They host the Predators on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Bell MTS Place.
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).