On Wednesday, it was the Leafs getting the better of the Jets 4-2 in a back-and-forth thriller from Bell MTS Place, before the teams regroup and do it all over again Saturday night in Toronto.
It was certainly a high-tempo, action-packed opening period from on Wednesday. The 6:15 P.M. start time may have caught some of the hometown fans off guard, but it certainly did not seem to affect either of the two Canadian teams facing off in the intra-conference spectacle from Manitoba.
It didn’t take long for the players and fans to get into the game… other than the observers stuck at the concourse entrances around the arena bowls that is. The first whistle came over two minutes into the game, while the second whistle did not occur for another seven minutes.
Although the shots came from nearly everywhere on the ice, neither team could find the twine until the 15 minute mark, as Kasperi Kapanen and the Leafs capitalized on a sloppy Patrik Laine defensive zone turnover with 5:22 remaining in the opening frame. The son of Sami Kapanen took his time placing the puck on the right spot of his stick before ripping it past Connor Hellebuyck and into the Jets’ cage.
After Toronto began the game with a 4-0 shot lead, Winnipeg bounced back to record the next eight shots, only to see their lead disappear on a Maple Leafs’ power play. A slew of chances kept the game exceptionally close, with Winnipeg’s best opportunity coming on a Patrik Laine break that rang off the far-side crossbar with just one minute left to play. Through 20 minutes Toronto held onto an 18-14 shot lead.
The visitors dominated the second period of play. Toronto recorded eight shots on net, including both of their two goals of the frame, before Winnipeg could find its second shot on Frederik Andersen. After Tyler Ennis made it 2-0 for the Leafs by redirecting a Josh Leivo point shot, Nazem Kadri picked up a perfectly placed Connor Brown bank pass and ripped a wrist shot past Hellebuyck short side on a quick rush up ice.
The Jets could not find any offence for the majority of the second frame, recording just four shots on goal in the segment. Winnipeg’s best chance came as Blake Wheeler took a page out of Patrik Laine’s book, finding the iron from in tight with seven minutes to go.
Toronto’s Zach Hyman responded with his own shot off the post less than a minute later in a goalmouth scramble. Not only did Winnipeg trail 3-0 after 40 minutes, but the home team also found itself 10 shots behind the visitors, down 28-18 heading into the third.
As has been the case over the span of the recent homestand, the Jets once again turned up the heat in the third period. Coming all the way back from being 10 shots down, Winnipeg put 22 pucks on net in the final 20 minutes, and collected two goals in the process. Unfortunately the comeback was cut short, as Toronto’s prized offseason acquisition John Tavares sealed the deal for the Buds, putting the Maple Leafs ahead 4-2 after the Jets made it a one-goal game.
Five minutes into the third period, a pinching Jacob Trouba found a wide open Nikolaj Ehlers in the slot with a backhand pass. The speedy Jets forward put the puck past Freddy Andersen, picking up his first goal of the season, and more importantly first marker in 204 days. 91 seconds later the Jets struck again.
With Connor Brown in the sin bin for hooking, Blake Wheeler slid a puck out from behind the net to Mark Scheifele, who hammered a one-timer past Andersen, short side, for his fifth of the year. The comeback was cut short rather quickly as JT finished off a pretty Mitch Marner scoring rush up ice, for his seventh goal of the season just two minutes after Scheifele’s power play strike.
Once again Winnipeg proved to battle back in the final stanza, finishing the night with one more shot than their opponents, but ultimately losing the game 4-2. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 35 of 39 pucks, while Frederik Andersen picked up the win, pushing aside 38 of 40 shots by the Jets.
Winnipeg will now hit the road and travel to Detroit for a Friday night matchup against the Red Wings before facing off against these same Maple Leafs Saturday night. The Jets will then fly to Finland for a two-game neutral site set against the Florida Panthers. Friday’s game will be available on TSN3 at 6:30 P.M. central, while Saturday’s contest will go on Sportsnet at 6:00 P.M.