The shallow hole the Winnipeg Jets tumbled into Monday deepened as the night wore on, yet the talented Central Division squad clawed its way out with two points tucked away.
Most witnesses would say it was a fortuitous outcome.
Defenceman Jacob Trouba’s overtime goal at 2:54 sealed the deal for the Jets in a 5-4 triumph over the St. Louis Blues at Bell MTS Place that began poorly for the hosts but ended with a third-period comeback.
Winnipeg, which has won three in a row, trailed 3-1 after 40 minutes and 4-3 late in the game. But veteran centre Bryan Little tied things with just 1:40 left in regulation time, batting in a rebound off a hard point drive from defenceman Dustin Byfuglien for his third goal of the season.
Kyle Connor set up the overtime tally, fooling everyone with a brilliant slap-pass instead of firing from in tight on goalie Jake Allen, and Trouba was left with a gaping cage for his first goal of the season.
Mark Scheifele registered his finest offensive night of the young season, scoring twice and assisting on two others, including a second assist on Trouba’s winner.
The Jets’ top centre said the club’s early struggles nearly cost them dearly.
“Yeah, that definitely wasn’t how we drew it up. We battled the puck early in that game,” said Scheifele. “That third period, we pretty much said, ‘Screw it. Let’s have fun and battle and work for each other here.’ It turned out. It worked for us. It just shows that any game is in reach if you play the right way. That third period we played Winnipeg Jets hockey. We were on the puck, we were working hard. We were battling for each other. That’s how you win games in this league.”
The Jets (6-2-1) haven’t lost a regular-season game at home in regulation time since late February, a span of 15 games.
An unlikely hero sparked the rally for the hosts. Blue-liner Ben Chiarot, who scored no more than two goals in each of his four previous seasons in Winnipeg, notched his second of the 2018-19 campaign just a minute into the final frame and then set up Scheifele less than three minutes later, barging to the net and flipping a shot at Allen, who left a rebound on a tee for Scheifele to swat in. That goal created a 3-3 deadlock.
Chiarot said the rally was in keeping with the club’s no-quit approach.
“I think we just knew that wasn’t our best hockey. (The Blues) came out hungry, they were the hungrier team and we were standing still and taking penalties and I think after (Brandon Tanev) gives a good hit there, we kinda rallied around that and when you kill a five-minute penalty, that’s something you can build off of,” said Chiarot.
Tanev took a five-minute major for boarding and was tossed from the game after delivering a dangerous hit on Ryan O’Reilly in the second period.
“Yeah, (we’re) a confident team. We know we’re a good team in here, it’s just a matter of putting it together every night. I think you see it in spurts but it’s early in the season. The first 10 games, so you’re seeing guys find there game and find their groove, and I think as we go along here you’ll see us pick up and get into more of a groove,” Chiarot added.
Winnipeg is 4-0-1 with one game to go on a six-game homestand, a long way from awful. Yet, the team has fallen short of a dominant performance in its own barn during the stretch, and humdrum starts have been the common thread.
The team’s hunt for a complete, 60-minute effort continues in earnest.
They were soundly outshot, 18-6, in the opening period. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck was beaten by O’Reilly’s nifty move on a breakway on the first shot he faced just 47 seconds after puck drop, and then was caught moving the wrong way when Colton Parayko’s blast from the blue line hit Jets defenceman Joe Morrow’s skate and went in.
“Clearly, we’re not going to be bragging about that first (period),” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “The second one, there were some really important things in there with the penalty kill. You have three minutes where you don’t get a guy out of the box and to lose an important penalty killer, so to hold water in that second. And then, we were really, really good in the third.”
The switch was flicked to start the third period, powered by some line juggling by Maurice, who flipped Patrik Laine to Scheifele’s left along with Blake Wheeler, while Connor took Laine’s spot with Little and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Ehlers showed some flash carrying the puck through the neutral zone but wasn’t dangerous deep in enemy territory. He’s now gone 26 games without a goal, including 11 regular-season games and 15 in the playoffs last season.
Little, meanwhile, has been terrific in the last few outings. He scored the winner Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks, and was a threat against the Blues much of the night.
“He should have had three game-winners here and that’s why he’s been out there. He’s just competing. But he’s feeling it right now. He’s good on his stick and good at getting to the right places. I’ve liked his game,” said Maurice.
Sensing a major shift in momentum after Scheifele’s second goal of the game, Blues head coach Mike Yeo wisely called a timeout, and his club responded with a go-ahead goal. Morrow coughed up the puck to O’Reilly at the blue line and David Perron, left alone in the high slot, ripped a low shot past a startled Hellebuyck at 5:11 of the third.
Morrow and his partner, Tyler Myers, looked lost at times in their own end, each finishing minus-2.
Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn also scored for St. Louis (2-3-3).
Hellebuyck made 30 saves, while Allen blocked 31.
The Toronto Maple Leafs pay their only visit Wednesday, the last of game of the Jets’ longest homestand of the season. Game time is 6 p.m.
Winnipeg travels to Detroit to play the Red Wings on Friday and then faces the Leafs in a rematch Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.
The team’s Finnish odyssey begins with a flight to Helsinki immediately following the game in Toronto. The Jets and Florida Panthers will hook up in a pair of regular-season games Thursday, Nov. 1 and Friday, Nov. 2 at Hartwall Arena as part of the NHL’s 2018 Global Series.
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).