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FAMILY members and friends back home in Finland stayed up to the wee hours Friday morning to watch Kristian Vesalainen make his NHL debut and record his first point in St. Louis.
There was no razzle-dazzle in effect, just a smart, simple hockey play by Winnipeg’s rookie forward midway through the third period that helped set up Brandon Tanev’s goal to increase the Jets lead to 5-0 over the Blues.
Vesalainen controlled the puck on the left boards just inside the Jets blue line and fed centre Jack Roslovic, who flipped a back-hand pass to Tanev streaking down the right side.
Vesalainen said while his first exhilarating taste of genuine NHL action was “a dream come true,” the milestone helper was a bit underwhelming.
“The assist wasn’t that good. I just threw it to Rosy and he passed it to Tanev and he scored. I’ll take it but it wasn’t that beautiful,” he said sheepishly in a chat Monday at Bell MTS Iceplex.
Tanev’s shot struck goalie Jake Allen in the shoulder, fell behind him and bounced just over the line. Blues forward Robert Thomas swept the puck aside and play continued, however, the horn sounded about 16 seconds later after the NHL’s situation room confirmed the puck was in.
With all the confusion, the prized puck wasn’t retrieved.
“I didn’t get it, no,” said the 19-year-old from Helsinki. But he has the memories of his inaugural night in the show.
A Little insight into Kovalchuk
Bryan Little says he, like many NHLers, was the beneficiary of Ilya Kovalchuk’s golden scoring touch.
The Jets centre played parts of three NHL seasons (2007-10) with Kovalchuk in Atlanta, and had the luxury of dishing to him on more than one occasion.
“I just remember sometimes being able to give him the puck and he would just kind of go end to end and shoot it through somebody, top corner, and I’d be like, ‘That’s the easiest assist of my life.’” Little said. “I had quite a few of those the first couple of years. I knew what to do, just get Kovalchuk the puck.”
Kovalchuk, 35, is back in the league following a five-year absence after signing a three-year, US$18.75-million deal with the Los Angeles Kings in the summer. He has a pair of assists in two games with L.A. to begin the season.
Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and 816 points in 816 career games for the Thrashers and New Jersey Devils before returning to Russia in 2013 to play for the Kontinental Hockey League’s SKA St. Petersburg.
Kulikov taking time to heal
To call Dmitry Kulikov a healthy scratch in back-to-back road games to begin the season is a bit of a misnomer.
Both Kulikov and his head coach said Monday a mutual decision was made early last week to give the veteran additional time to return to form after off-season back surgery.
He watched from the press box in St. Louis and Dallas, while Joe Morrow partnered with Tyler Myers.
“It’s the kind of thing that it feels good, but at the same time, we just felt like it was too early to get in there,” Kulikov said, following practice. “We talked with Paul and better to (do) some more reps in practice and take it day by day.”
Might he debut today against the visiting Los Angeles Kings?
“We’ll see, I don’t know. I can’t answer that question,” Kulikov said.
Kulikov was hurt as he leaned in to fire a shot during Winnipeg’s 3-2 victory over the host New Jersey Devils on March 8. At the time, the team said it was an aggravation of a problem that hobbled him the previous season (2016-17) in Buffalo, limiting him to just 47 games with the Sabres.
He was sidelined for two months but was a surprise choice to dress for Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Iowa runs Wild over Manitoba Moose
Iowa certainly didn’t seem like heaven for the Manitoba Moose over the weekend. The Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate suffered a 4-1 defeat to the Iowa Wild on Friday night in Des Moines before getting blasted 8-1 by the same squad two nights later.
— Jason Bell
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).