They may not be as deep as they once were, but a sizzling top line and a hot goaltender can help cover a lot of perceived deficiencies.
Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele combined for eight points while Connor Hellebuyck made 38 saves as the Winnipeg Jets downed the Minnesota Wild 5-2 in their home-opener Thursday night at Bell MTS Place.
Laine set up the winning goal with just over 11 minutes left in the third period, finding a wide-open Kyle Connor to break a 2-2 tie, with both teams playing a man short due to coincidental penalties. Winnipeg took advantage of the extra ice again just 28 seconds later as Jack Roslovic buried a feed from Josh Morrissey.
It’s not often the turning point comes on a pair of offsetting minors, but that was the case when Nikolaj Ehlers tried to run some subtle interference on Carson Soucey, then got clotheslined to the ice for his efforts and briefly went down the tunnel to get checked out.
The four-on-four game suits the speedy Jets just fine as they left the slower, aging Wild defenders in their dust and taking control of a game that was, until that point, very much up for grabs.
Winnipeg improves to 3-2-0 on the year, while Minnesota drops to 0-3-0.
Minnesota struck first at 13:08 of the opening period after Ville Heinola was taken down in front of his own net by Ryan Hartman, who fired the puck past a surprised Hellebuyck. Replays showed Hartman appear to clip Heinola’s leg, but there was no call on the play.
The Jets have now given up the first goal in all five games this season.
Winnipeg tied it just 1:37 into the middle frame as Scheifele took on two Wild defenders behind the net, came away with the puck and found Wheeler in the slot. The captain’s third goal of the season was his 700th career NHL point. He was given a lengthy ovation by fans who also chanted his name, and Wheeler responded by applauding them back. Laine also drew a helper on the play.
The No. 1 trio struck against at 9:10 of the period, with Scheifele making an incredible, cross-ice pass to a wide-open Laine, who blasted a one-timer past Devan Dubnyk for his second of the year. Wheeler had the other assist.
Minnesota tied it 3:09 into the third period as the Jets got stuck in their own end on a prolonged shift, with both Mathieu Perreault and Jack Roslovic whiffing on clearing attempts. Defenceman Brad Hunt took advantage, beating Hellebuyck.
Laine then notched his team-leading seventh assist of the year when he set-up Connor. That’s quite something considering he had 20 assists all last year.
Laine then finished off a terrific night by stealing a puck and scoring an empty-netter with just over a minute to play. He’s up to a team-leading 10 points on the year – tied with Connor McDavid for the NHL scoring lead – and his decision to bet on himself by taking a two-year bridge deal appears to be paying off.
Seven of the those points have come in the past two games.
Hellebuyck, coming off a sparkling 37-save effort in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win in Pittsburgh, was sharp again, displaying the kind of form expected from the one-time Vezina Trophy finals.
Winnipeg returns to action Saturday night in Chicago, then come home for a Sunday night date with the Penguins.
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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