With goals from Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and yet another overtime-winner from Kyle Connor, the Jets walked away as winners in what very well could have been a blowout performance.
It was announced close to puckdrop that Anaheim Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf would miss Friday evening’s game with an undisclosed illness. The loss of Getzlaf was felt throughout the entire building, as the Ducks were unable to generate anything offensively for the better part of Friday’s Western Conference matchup.
Although only down one player, the Ducks may have been better off sitting the majority of their players in the first period Friday, as only netminder John Gibson showed up to play. With 17 shots on net – as opposed Anaheim’s four – the Jets peppered Gibson from all angles.
Winnipeg found themselves down by one early on, as Derek Grant perfectly redirected a Hampus Lindholm point shot past Connor Hellebuyck. But it only took Ehlers and the Jets 1:04 of game time to respond to Anaheim’s opening marker.
On a beautiful passing play started by captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele found Nikolaj Ehlers who outwaited the Anaheim defender, before roofing a perfectly placed wrist shot past a screened Gibson for his 28th of the season.
The Jets came close to pulling ahead of their Western Conference foe on multiple occasions, but the Ducks’ rock-solid 24-year-old goaltender kept the door closed for the remainder of the first.
The middle stanza was another period much like the opening 20 minutes, as Winnipeg continued its dominance over the visiting Ducks. Actually, ‘dominance’ would be an understatement.
With another 16 shots in the frame, the Jets improved their total shot output to 33 on the night. Yes, you read that correctly. John Gibson made 31 saves through just two periods of play. After letting the first shot of the period past him, Gibson rebounded tremendously, robbing nearly every Jet on numerous occasions. ‘Gibson’s Finest’ very well may have come with a brilliant flash of the leather on Patrik Laine in the slot.
Just 45 seconds into the second period, Wheeler went inside out on Ducks’ defender Cam Fowler, before dishing the disc to Scheifele, who wasted little time burying his 22nd of the season. That play gave both Wheeler and Scheifele their second points of the night.
The Jets seemed to cool off in the third period, not quite generating their per-period average of 16.5 shots in the final frame. Giving Gibson a slight break by only putting nine pucks on net, the 29-win netminder certainly earned his first star recognition on Friday.
After periods of four and six shots on net, Anaheim managed another six in the third – luckily for the playoff hopefuls, one of those six found its way past Hellebuyck.
Following a questionable pinch by Joe Morrow, Nick Ritchie walked the puck into the Jets’ end before squeezing a wrist shot past the other 24-year-old netminder, deadlocking the game at twos – exactly where it would stay until it could be decided in overtime – much to the delight of Anaheim Head Coach (and former Winnipeg Jet) Randy Carlyle.
After a couple hesitant minutes, Winnipeg sealed the deal in the extra frame as Kyle Connor ripped home his second overtime-winner in as many games, on a nicely placed shot from the faceoff circle to Gibson’s left.
Finding himself on a two-on-one with Mark Scheifele, Connor opened up to receive the pass, and picked his spot before sniping his 28th goal of the season five-hole – one behind Vancouver’s Brock Boeser for the NHL rookie goal-scoring lead.
Scheifele picked up his third point of the night with his overtime helper, bringing his season totals to 22 goals and 56 points in 53 games played. Wheeler registered his 63rd and 64th assist of the season, matching Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux for the league lead.
Winnipeg hit the 100-point mark for the first time in franchise history, passing their previous best of 99 points set in the 2014-15 season – coincidentally the last season in which the Jets qualified for the post-season. Hellebuyck improved his record to 38-11-9 on the season. With one point Friday, the Ducks moved ahead of Colorado into the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
With eight games remaining, and a record of 45-19-10, Winnipeg has a legitimate chance at a 50-win season. Back-to-back home games against Nashville and Boston close out the Jets’ six-game homestand, while a four-game road-trip with stops in Chicago, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal begin the month of April.
Patrik Laine registered five shots on goal and two hits in just over 18 minutes of ice-time. The 19-year-old Finn was forced to leave Tuesday’s game against Los Angeles, following an ankle injury from a blocked shot. Toby Enstrom was removed from Friday’s contest after suffering an apparent lower-body injury in a neutral zone collision.
Sunday’s 6:00 P.M. game from Bell MTS Place against the visiting Nashville Predators can be seen live on Sportsnet, while Tuesday’s test against the Boston Bruins is available on TSN3 at 7:00 P.M.
By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder