Nobody was calling it a must-win game. But the Winnipeg Jets came out playing like it was Tuesday night, downing the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 to jump back into a Western Conference playoff spot.
With the much-needed victory, the Jets snapped a six-game losing streak at Bell MTS Place and made a little history in the process. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 41 shots for his 18th career shutout, passing Ondrej Pavelec for most shutouts in franchise history.
“Well you know, it all started in practice, (we’ve) been battling hard, trying to identify what is going wrong and how to make it better. And not only that, we almost focus too much on how to get better. You’ve gotta realize we’re doing some good things right now, so get the mind right and come out and battle super hard in practice. It does show in the game,” said Hellebuyck, who also leads the NHL in goose eggs this season with four.
Hellebuyck nearly made even more history by attempting to score into an empty net late in the third period. His shot was knocked down by Vancouver’s Bo Horvat before it could travel the full distance.
“I mean my heart was racing after that. It was my first attempt, so I was trying to settle the puck and it just turned up on me. So I didn’t get everything I wanted on it,” said Hellebuyck, who was trying to duplicate what Nashville Predators netminder Pekka Rinne accomplished in a game last week.
Winnipeg improves to 25-18-4. That’s the same record as Vancouver, which came into the game having won nine of their past 11 games.
It turns out a visit from the streaking Canucks was just what the doctor ordered for the slumping Jets. They’ve now won 10 straight games over the Canucks spanning four seasons, outscoring them 35-10 in the process.
It was an eventful, one-sided start to the game. Jets centre Mark Scheifele banked the puck off Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and into the net on his opening shift, but it was waved off as replays showed the puck entered through the side, with the net coming off the pegs into the air.
No matter, as Kyle Connor scored a goal that did count four seconds later. Right off the draw, Patrik Laine fed Sami Niku, who hit Connor with a perfect pass in the slot. Connor ripped his team-leading 23rd of the season at 1:22.
“Usually we have a set play going into it. He (Niku) came down the wall and found some space on the weak side, and I was hoping he saw me. I didn’t want to call for it to draw a defender. It’s a pretty incredible pass and I just tried to get it off quick,” said Connor.
Winnipeg looked to have taken a 2-0 lead just 33 seconds later when defenceman Anthony Bitetto’s point shot squeaked through the Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom’s pads. However, the goal was overturned on an offside challenge, denying Bitetto the third goal of his NHL career in his 169th game. It’s also the fourth time a Jets goal has been called back this season by an offside. Laine, with two, and Carl Dahlstrom have been the other victims.
If you’re keeping track, Winnipeg put three pucks into the Vancouver net in a span of 37 seconds — but only had one goal to show for it.
“Just a weird series of events in the first period that kind of slowed the game down, but I think the team did a good job of staying focused,” said forward Jack Roslovic, who legitimately made it 2-0 at 14:24 of the first period.
Roslovic took a breakaway pass from Adam Lowry and beat Markstrom. It was the eighth of the season for Roslovic, and first in 13 games. He was bumped down to play on the third line with Lowry and Mathieu Perreault, and it immediately paid off.
“It was a good demotion, if I’m getting forced to use that word. He gets to play against different guys and your role changes a little bit,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
Blake Wheeler made it 3-0 at 1:12 of the second period with the Jets on a power play. Wheeler was trying to pass the puck to Connor in front of the net, but Connor used himself as a screen and it went straight through and into the net. Wheeler is up to 15 goals this season.
Connor added his second of the game into an empty net late in the third period. On that play, Scheifele passed up an easy goal that would have tied him for the team lead with Connor.
“That just says a lot about the guy. He’s the type of teammate you want to play with, the type of guy you want in the room. Just about as selfless as it gets. I thought he was going to bury it. I was just kinda sticking around and he gave it back to me, so I figured I may as well put it in, I didn’t want to spend too much time,” Connor said.
Vancouver had plenty of chances to score, including four power plays on the night, but Hellebuyck and his teammates were able to kill them off. The Canucks also hit several posts.
“That’s all I gave them,” said Hellebuyck.
Maurice had to do some last-minute lineup juggling, as defenceman Dmitry Kulikov was a late scratch with the flu. Dahlstrom drew back into the lineup in his place. However, Dahlstrom’s night was cut short when he suffered an upper-body injury late in the second period and didn’t return. Maurice said it looks to be a long-term absence for Dahlstrom.
Winnipeg is already without Tucker Poolman and Nathan Beaulieu due to injuries.
The Jets were also hot about an uncalled first period elbow by Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen to the face of Mathieu Perreault, who recently returned from a concussion caused by a blindside head shot from the Philadelphia Flyers’ Joel Farabee.
“I was pissed. That was stupid. Like, what’s wrong with him? Why would you do that? I didn’t even have the puck. Actually, I see him coming and he puts his elbow up, right in my chin,” said Perreault. “I was yelling, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why would you do that? You’re going to get suspended, you idiot.’ He had nothing to say. He was like, ‘We ran into each other.’ Look at the replay, you idiot. It keeps happening to me.”
Maurice called the play “reckless.”
“Maybe I’m more sensitive right now because I just lost the guy to another one of those. And it’s a head shot. But that one is player to player and you can’t do that. I get it, when some of these collisions happen late or somebody thinks they move and you accidentally catch a guy. There’s no need for that one and I’m sure it will get looked at,” he said.
The Jets will conclude the three-game homestand Friday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, then hit the road for three games in four nights prior to a week-long break that includes the all-star game.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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