Injured, under-manned and playing a one-game “homestand,” the Winnipeg Jets overcame just about everything on Saturday night.
In fact, if there is a Jets motto for this 2019-20 season, it’s “Overcoming Adversity.”
Despite losing Josh Morrissey (hit on the back of the leg by a dump-in), Nathan Beaulieu (blocked a shot with his hand) and starting goalie Laurent Brossoit (cramping), the Jets beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 on a late unassisted goal by Andrew Copp.
With the win, in front of a full-house on Hockey Fights Cancer Night at BellMTS Place, the Jets improved to 14-9-1 on the season and will now head out onto a three-game California road trip.
“Coming to the rink, I thought it’s not going to be easy,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “It wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t pretty, but the compete was there and the bench was great. They stayed in the fight and really supported each other. It wasn’t easy for them. They were dragging out and there and they didn’t have a lot of pop. But they played hard and I’m really happy for them. This group hasn’t played perfect, but it’s played hard.”
Columbus took an early lead when Pierre-Luc Dubois banged a rebound past Jets starter Brossoit on the power-play at 4:59, but the Jets tied it at 8:23 as Jack Roslovic made a great pass to captain Blake Wheeler who ripped his sixth of the season past the Jackets’ Elvis Merzlikins.
The Jets took the lead early in the second period as Nikolaj Ehlers completed a beautiful give-and-go with Blake Wheeler to score his 11thof the season at 5:19. It was Wheeler’s 600thpoint as a member of the Jets/Thrashers organization (he had 17 points in 22 games with the Atlanta Thrashers and 583 with Winnipeg) and the 710thpoint in 884 games in his NHL career.
However, that lead was short-lived.
With the Jets leading 2-1, the Blue Jackets scored a pair of power play goals in a 47-second span in the second period as the Jets were called for two highly-questionable penalties. First, Tucker Poolman was sent off for hooking Nick Foligno even though Foligno grabbed Poolman’s stick and tucked it under his arm. Then, nine seconds later, Luca Sbisa was called for boarding after barely making contact with Boone Jenner who fell into the end boards and made a lot of noise.
Two penalties were called within nine seconds by referee Jon McIsaac who, quite clearly, didn’t see either play.
The Blue Jackets took advantage of their good fortune to score their second and third power play goals of the night. Seth Jones scored his second of the season at 6:30 with a two-man advantage and then Gustav Nyquist tallied his fourth of the year with Sbisa in the box.
That quickly gave the jackets a 3-2 lead, but the Jets didn’t panic nor did they back down.
It took seven and a half minutes, but at 14:43, Mathieu Perreault took a pass from Adam Lowry while moving away from the slot and flipped a knuckle-puck into the corner of the Columbus net past a startled Elvis Merzlikins.
That made it 3-3 and set up an interesting third period.
Playing with only Neal Pionk, Tucker Poolman, Dmitry Kulikov and Luca Sbisa on defence, the Jets hung in and kept Columbus off the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Brossoit apparently was cramping up and at 8:41 of the third period, he left the game and went straight to the locker room as Connor Hellebuyck took over.
Brossoit was playing well, having stopped 27 of 30 shots and allowing just three power play goals, but Hellebuyck came in and stopped all five shot he faced to keep the Jets in the game.
And just when it looked like the two teams were headed to overtime, Merzlikins made a terrible play. Trying to clear the puck from his own crease, he shot it right at Copp, who made a move and took a weak shot that handcuffed the Columbus netminder. Merzlikins fell awkwardly as the puck skidded past him and barely went across the line to give the Jets a 4-3 lead at 18:06.
“The way the game went, it was kind of back and forth, and then you never know what’s going to happen especially with two minutes left,” said Copp. “The goalie’s kind of scrambling to get back into the net and fortunately it hit of the D-man and it went into the net. It was kind of a fortuitous bounce, but with two minutes left you’ll take ‘em any way you can get ‘em.”
At that point Elvis left the building. Hellebuyck and Winnipeg’s makeshift defence kept six Columbus attackers off the board in a furious finish and the Jets had their 29thpoint of the season.
The Jets were outshot 35-31 (Winnipeg is 9-2-0 when they’ve been outshot this season), but won 57 per cent of the faceoffs and outhit Columbus 19-13. The Blue Jackets were three-for-five on the power play while Winnipeg was zero-for-three. Pionk had 24 minutes and 51 seconds of icetime while Kulikov logged 22:55. Poolman was on the ice for 18:25 and Sbisa for 18:34. Up front, Adam Lowry, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor all logged more than 20 minutes. With a goal and an assist, Copp had his first multi-point game of the season.
The Blue Jackets’ Dubois (3) and the Jets’ Ehlers (2) and Wheeler were (1) the three stars.
The Jets don’t play again at home until Tuesday, Dec. 3 when the Dallas Stars come to town.