DALLAS – The hits keep on coming for the Winnipeg Jets, and it’s rocking their chances of pushing for a playoff spot.
After falling to the Calgary Flames in heartbreaking fashion on Monday to kick off their four-game road trip, allowing the game-winning goal in the final seconds of a 3-1 defeat, the Jets were bested by the Dallas Stars 3-2 in overtime in front of 10,098 at American Airlines Center.
“It’s tough because I want it so bad and I want to make (the) playoffs really bad and I know everyone in the room does, too. It’s hard not to watch the standings,” Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. “I know we’re taking it game by game, but it’s tough when we keep on losing so close. We are in most games and those are important points. But that being said, it’s only two games of the road trip. We could still salvage a good roadie (with the last two games).”
Once again, sloppy play and some bad puck luck by the Jets would propel their opponents to victory. And while it was merely one mistake against the Flames, it was three breakdowns against the Stars that led to Winnipeg losing their third straight game.
Up 1-0 after the first period, a bobbled puck on the power play by Neal Pionk near Dallas’ blue line resulted in a 1-1 game by the end of the second frame. Then after the Jets took the lead in the third period, missed assignments on a Stars offensive zone rush led to an easy goal for the home side and a 2-2 affair.
Finally, after Josh Morrissey was stopped on a glorious opportunity in extra time, the Stars turned back the other way and Tyler Seguin iced the game 54 seconds into OT. The Stars have now won five of their last seven games, improving 28-20-2 on the year.
With the Jets desperately in need of every point they can get to claw back into the Western Conference playoff race, they’ve entered the unfortunate reality of every game feeling like a must-win. That was particularly true Wednesday night, with Dallas entering the game four points up on Winnipeg and with a game in hand.
With the loss, the Jets fell to 22-20-9, and are six points back of the L.A. Kings, who were still in action against the lowly Arizona Coyotes before press time, for the final wild-card spot. While the Jets will take some solace in earning the single point in the loss, things don’t get an easier, with the NHL-leading Colorado Avalanche on tap Friday night.
“Well, it’s frustrating when you don’t get two points and you don’t get a point at least out of Calgary the other night, for sure. You look at our schedule, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself or get dejected,” Morrissey said. “We got to turn the page right away and be ready to go against a pretty darn good team next. It’s all about trying to be ready each day to get a point or two points. Obviously, we would have loved two tonight, but we still got one. Take that positive and try to go in and play against a really good team and try to get two points there to keep fighting.”
Unlike the game in Calgary, where the Jets squandered two early power-play opportunities against the Flames within the first five minutes, the Jets put forth a strong push right out of the gate against the Stars.
Blake Wheeler opened the scoring at the 7:14 mark of the first period, firing a low wrist shot past the blocker of Jake Oettinger to put the visitors up 1-0. It was Wheeler’s 13th point in the last seven games, and the first time in six games the Jets have scored the game’s opening goal.
The Jets had a chance to add to their lead just minutes later, but a Kyle Connor one-timer in the slot was swallowed up by Oettinger. From there, momentum shifted in favour of the Stars, with Dallas applying heavy pressure on the forecheck and sustaining time in the Jets end for long stretches.
Connor Hellebuyck, who was stellar all night, finishing with 36 saves, was up to the challenge, turning aside several chances by the Stars, none greater than an open break by Jason Robertson. Hellebuyck closed his pads on the first shot, and then deflected Robertson’s rebound clear of the net.
“I do think we kept for the most part a lot of shots to the outside. He played great, too,” Morrissey said of Hellebuyck. “We rely on him back there, and we’d like to limit the shots from what they were, but I think there was some good stuff defensively as well.”
The Stars would eventually even the score late in the second period, delivering a dagger shorthanded to make it a 1-1 game with 2:10 remaining.
Pionk’s turnover sent the Stars back the other way on a 2-on-1. Roope Hintz waited for Pionk to commit before sliding a pass over to Jamie Benn, who made no mistake, beating Hellebuyck with a cheeky shot between the pads.
Hintz was then inches away from giving the Stars their first lead, but instead sailed a shot high over the open cage and into the netting with just seconds remaining on the clock. Adam Lowry was assessed a tripping penalty as time expired, but the Jets penalty kill, which was a major bright spot, ending a perfect 5-for-5, including killing a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking, kept the Jets lead intact.
“I see a lot of guys who are dialled in and willing to get in shot lanes, willing to roll short (shifts) and they’re doing the things with a lot of urgency and doing things with a lot of desperation, and the details are there,” Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry said of his team’s PK. “Every time we play these guys, we have good games, hard games, close games. Obviously, with where both teams are positioned in the standings, it was going to have the make-up of a real tight, heavy game.”
Winnipeg’s best chance in the period came near the midway mark, with Pionk delivering a pass from his own end to a streaking Dominic Toninato. Toninato, who entered the game with a point in each of the last three games, was alone from the Stars blue line but couldn’t sneak a shot five-hole on Oettinger.
The power play that let the Jets down would be what gave them life in the third period.
Mark Scheifele, who had gone pointless the last three games after scoring in five straight, wired a one-timer slap shot off a pass from Pionk that picked the far-right corner. The goal came with some controversy, as it looked like Scheifele might have caught Jamie Benn in the face with his stick moments before scoring.
It wouldn’t matter, though, as the Stars tied the game late in the third. Tyler Seguin delivered a perfect pass to a streaking Denis Guriano, who tapped in an easy marker with 6:25 left in the frame.
That set up a fight for the extra point in overtime. Morrissey could have sealed it, but his shot was stopped by the stretched out right pad of Oettinger. Seguin opted to keep on a 2-on-1, his shot catching Hellebuyck’s blocker before barely crossing the goal line.
“He shot it at my blocker and I blockered it up and as it was descending, I got another piece of it and knocked it up again and then that’s where it ran into his stick and he swatted at it,” said Hellebuyck, who said he felt like the puck might have been touched with a high stick. “For me, I knocked it up twice, which had to be over my shoulder. I don’t know exactly where it was at the net, but it was close. Definitely close.”
The play would require a brief review, with video evidence confirming the goal, sending the Jets out of town with another loss and their playoff hopes clinging by a thread.
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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