their inaugural season. And on Thursday night from Bell MTS Place, it was no different from the Pacific Division leaders.
Putting together a strong second period, the Golden Knights capitalized on a sloppy Winnipeg Jets team. In a rather controversial fashion, the visitors waltzed into the coldest city in the NHL and took two of the three awarded points, by way of a 3-2 overtime victory.
Heading into Thursday’s contest, the home team had walked away victorious in each of the last two games between the Jets and Golden Knights. Winnipeg (30-13-9) lost 5-2 in a rather sluggish affair in Vegas (34-12-4) on November 10th, but rebounded with a 7-4 victory a month later at Bell MTS Place. With Thursday’s matchup being the final test of the season series, the Jets hoped that home-ice advantage would play a significant role for the boys in blue once again.
Much like Tuesday’s tilt with the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, the first period got off to a slow start. A low shooting opening period was the product of neither team seeming too interested in giving up the first goal of the game. The cautious approach was finally swept under the rug with just under five minutes to play, as Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury made an ill-advised decision to race Jets’ tough guy Matt Hendricks to a loose puck behind the Golden Knights’ net.
Hendricks out-muscled both Fluery and two defencemen to the loose puck, before perfectly setting up Joel Armia in front of the wide-open cage for the right-winger’s 10th goal of the campaign. Winnipeg held a minimal 12-10 lead in the shots department after 20 minutes of play.
The Vegas Golden Knights seemed to find their groove in the second period, outshooting the hometown Jets in the frame, while taking the overall shot lead in the game, 22-21. Making matters worse for Winnipeg, two of Vegas’ 12 second period shots found the twine.
While on the power play, Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler was run over rather violently while carrying the puck over his blue line by Knights’ Reilly Smith. The 26-year-old Vegas forward walked in untouched before beating Hellebuyck high, glove hand, for his 19th of the season, knotting the game at ones roughly halfway through the period.
Later, on the power play, Erik Haula poked a loose puck past a disturbed Connor Hellebuyck, giving Vegas a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame.
Jets’ Head Coach Paul Maurice decided to challenge the potential go-ahead goal for goaltender interference. Prior to Haula tucking the puck past a rather shell-shocked Hellebuyck, Vegas’ James Neal forcefully broke his stick in two while slashing the bottom portion of the Jets’ netminder’s mask. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, Maurice’s challenge attempt went unsuccessful, adding further confusion to the league’s recently publicized goaltender interference rule.
A low shooting third period provided little opportunity for the Jets to claw their way back onto the scoreboard. But with 2:36 to go, Joel Armia stopped a dump in along the sideboards and found a wide-open Kyle Connor. Connor made no mistake putting the puck upstairs short-side past Fluery, sending the game to overtime, much to the pleasure of the hometown fans.
A wild overtime period saw chance after chance for both teams, most notably a Josh Morrissey point shot off the post with heavy traffic in front. Although Hellebuyck did stop a Nate Schmidt breakaway opportunity, the 24-year-old Winnipeg tendy was unable to get in the way of David Perron’s overtime winner with 1:03 left in overtime.
In dropping Thursday’s contest, Winnipeg’s record fell to 30-13-9 on the season. The Jets did manage to pick up a point for the sixth-straight game.
Not only did Thursday’s game mark the third and final battle of the two Western Conference division leaders, it also signified the second game of a 10-game homestand for the Jets. Starting things off on the right note, Winnipeg picked up a 3-1 victory over the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Following Thursday’s game, the Winnipeg Jets will welcome the Nathan MacKinnon-less Colorado Avalanche to Bell MTS Place on Saturday evening, before playing host to Arizona and St. Louis on Tuesday and Friday, respectively. Remarkably, that will only bring the Jets to the mid-way point of their franchise-record 10 game heater.
Within the next three weeks, the Rangers, Capitals, Avalanche again, Panthers and Kings will also all make their way to Winnipeg before the Jets finally head out on the road for a brief two-game stop. Saturday’s test against Colorado will get underway from Bell MTS Place at 6:00 P.M. local time, and can be seen live on Sportsnet.
– Carter Brooks, Game On Magazine
Photos by James Carey Lauder