Jets tame beasts of the east

The Winnipeg Jets tamed one of the beasts of the east Tuesday night.

Guided by the principles of sound defensive hockey — for two periods — and sparked by a pair of stunning goals from their special teams in the final frame, the Jets dumped the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning 7-4 in downtown Winnipeg.

Locked up 3-3 after 40 minutes, the Jets finally hit pay dirt on their fourth chance with the man advantage as Pierre-Luc Dubois flipped in a rebound at 7:25. Less than two minutes later, Mikhail Sergachev’s pratfall allowed Kyle Connor to swoop down on a short-handed breakaway and completely bamboozle Lighting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy before calmly sliding in his team-leading 34th.

The first period was wildly entertaining as the clubs kept the goal judges busy. To be sure, interim head coach Dave Lowry preferred the look and feel of the second and third periods, as the Jets held the Lightning to a mere 14 shots the rest of the way.

“We talked about how we’d have to play the rest of the way home to give ourselves a chance. We were going to have to play direct, we were going to have to play in straight lines. And we did that. We stayed with it,” said Lowry. “I thought we were solid. Like I said, we got better in the neutral zone. So, we started spending more time in the offensive zone. I thought that we had real purpose in our game.”

The Jets (25-22-10) finished a four-game homestand 2-1-1. They are still seven points below the playoff line in the Western Conference, with 25 games left in the season.

The team’s collective mood received a boost as the Jets prepare for a three-game road trip. There was some early bend but no break from a squad that desperately needs something to build on.

Jets centre Mark Scheifele led the way with a goal and three helpers, Paul Stastny had a pair of goals, while captain Blake Wheeler chipped in two assists (including his 500th with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise.

Winnipeg’s penalty kill was a perfect 3-for-3 on the night against the potent Lightning, the NHL’s fourth-ranked team overall.

From timely blocked shots, such as the one by Logan Stanley that clearly stung the big man, to some sensational stops by Hellebuyck, the penalty kill was a major factor in the outcome.

“Yeah, definitely. We need everybody. I think Helly’s by far our best penalty killer,” said Connor. “When you got him back there, making that save on Stamkos. That was pretty sweet. I think, as well, having guys sacrifice their body and know what it takes, I think it’s just that collectively we’ve really beared downed these last couple of games and bought into it. We’re starting to see the results.”

The Jets have squandered some terrific starts recently, including a 3-0 jump on the Colorado Avalanche and 4-0 cushion on the Montreal Canadiens.

So, they weren’t exactly in their safe place bolting to a two-goal advantage after just six minutes, courtesy of Scheifele’s 21st of the season and Adam Lowry’s eighth (and fourth in his last six outings), particularly against the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions.

The veteran centres both took direct routes to the front of the net and pounced on rebounds

<p>Tampa Bay Lightning’s goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) saves the shot as Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler (26) and Lightning Jan Rutta (44) fight for position during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade</p>
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Tampa Bay Lightning’s goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) saves the shot as Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler (26) and Lightning Jan Rutta (44) fight for position during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade

Predictably, however, the elite Eastern Conference squad clawed back to tie it 3-3 by the first intermission.

Tampa’s Ryan McDonagh scored with just over eight minutes to go in the period. Stastny replied on a shot that squeezed through Vasilevskiy to regain the two-goal cushion with just over five minutes left.

Alex Killorn and Victor Hedman scored 89 seconds apart late in the frame. The Lightning pinpointed a leak in Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck early, beating him high to the blocker side on all three first-period tallies.

Hellebuyck finished with 20 saves.

The Lightning (37-13-6) remain in third spot in the Eastern Conference.

Winnipeg defenceman Josh Morrissey’s little hook on a streaking Pat Maroon handed the Lightning a power-play chance early in the third but the Jets held steady, girded by their goalie who robbed perennial sniper Steven Stamkos from close range.

That set the stage for Dubois’ power-play goal, his 23rd of the year, generated by brute force as he corralled a loose puck in traffic.

Meanwhile, Connor’s shortie on a breakaway deke will live on in highlight packages for years to come.

“It was really nice. He’s a pretty good player, as I’m sure you guys have seen. It was a big goal,” said Scheifele. “To go up two (goals) on those guys is huge. I don’t think there’s any guy we trust more on a breakaway than this guy right here.”

Winnipeg is up to seven shorthanded goals on the season and have looked dangerous.

“I think if you take us back to our first game in Seattle, I don’t know if you remember that. We made an adjustment, just wanted to be more aggressive. Just make them make a play,” said Connor. “I’ve personally been on the power play and if you’re constantly getting pressured and you’re forced to make plays, it can be tough.

“We’ve really focused on pressure points. When they’re trying to get into the zone, that’s a spot where we recognize that we can be aggressive. Also, on faceoffs, trying not to let them get set up.”

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy in favour of an extra attacker with almost six minutes left in regulation but the move immediately backfired as Josh Morrissey deposited his seventh goal of the season into the empty cage.

Ross Colton trimmed the lead but Stastny added another empty-netter, his second goal of the game and 17th of the year.

The Jets cancelled Wednesday morning’s practice. The team departs for the Eastern Seaboard, with matchups against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday and the New York Islanders on Friday. Winnipeg caps off the trip with a battle against the Central Division-rival Blues on Sunday night in St. Louis.

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

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