PAUL, MINNESOTA – The Winnipeg Jets got a point. That’s the only good thing you can say about Saturday afternoon’s National Hockey League game played in front of a two-thirds-full Xcel Energy Centre.
The Minnesota Wild scored a power play goal in overtime to beat the Jets 3-2. The penalty that set up the power play should never have been called. The painfully obvious goaltender interference penalty on the winning goal wasn’t called. It was farcical.
It was also a tough loss for goaltender Connor Hellebuyck who bounced back from a horrible outing against Toronto on Thursday night to play brilliantly once again on Saturday.
“It’s goalie interference all day long for me and there’s not a lot of grey area on that one,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “I’m not giving them any money. Not one dime. If I say anything else it’s going to get expensive, let’s call it a day.”
Jets owner Mark Chipman should have called Maurice and told him the fine was paid and let him go off on a John Tortorella rant.
Hellebuyck stopped 41 shots as the Jets took a 2-1 lead early in the third period and then played rope-a-dope for the next 14 minutes. Winnipeg had been outshot 13-1 in the final period before Luke Kunin tied it at 14:30 of the third.
That made it 2-2 and while the Jets played well down the stretch, the officials missed two obvious penalties in the Minnesota zone and then, in overtime, the game deteriorated into what was an officials’ victory. Somebody in an orange arm-band must have had money on this one.
First, a penalty was called against Blake Wheeler for slashing that, based on all the other missed calls in the game, was questionable at best. That left the Jets down four-skaters-to-three and although they did a nice job fighting off the penalty, they didn’t realize that pushing a goaltender in the crease and then pushing him to the side of the goal to leave the net empty was within the rules.
The Jets waited for a decision on the review, but it was painfully obvious they weren’t going to catch a break on this day. Eric Staal needed only to tap the puck into the corner as Hellebuyck was dragged to the opposite side of the net by Zach Parise.
Interestingly, Parise said after the game that he was convinced the winning goal was NOT going to count. However, the referees blamed Jets defensemen Anthony Bitetto and Tucker Poolman for pushing Parise into Hellebuyck.
Minnesota finished the game with six power plays to the Jets’ three.
The Wild opened the scoring at 1:12 of the opening period when Marcus Foligno completed a gorgeous three-way passing play thanks in no small way to a lazy backcheck by the Jets Patrik Laine. After that initial goal, however, Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck was rock solid after that.
Minnesota finished the period outshooting the Jets 13-7 but at one point it was 7-7. Trouble was, the Wild had six solid scoring chances while the Jets had none. Winnipeg just couldn’t create much in the Minnesota zone.
The Jets were solid in the second period and tied the game on the power play at 39 seconds when a patient Blake Wheeler waited, waited and waited until he found a tiny opening to feed Mark Scheifele who ripped a one-time laser beam past Devan Dubnyk.
Minnesota outshot the Jets 11-10 over the second 20-minute frame, but the Jets finally started to get some legitimate scoring chances.
In the third, Winnipeg scored its second power-play goal of the game at the 52-second mark when he drilled a blistering shot past Dubnyk.
That’s when, for reasons known only to the Jets, they went into a defensive shell. They allowed the Wild to attack and it was only a matter of time before Minnesota would score. Finally, Kunin beat Hellebuyck with a frozen rope bar-down to tie it.
In the end, Staal scored the winner and the Jets fell to 22-16-4 on the season.
Minnesota outshot Winnipeg 44-21, 16-4 in the third period and 4-0 in the overtime. The Jets won 55 per cent of the faceoffs. Both teams had 15 hits. The announced crowd was 17,271, not a sellout, and there were lots and lots of empty seats.
Neal Pionk had a terrific game, logging 25 minutes and 38 seconds of ice time with three shots (tied with Wheeler for most on the team), four hits (most on the team) and a blocked shot. He also assisted on Scheifele’s goal.
Winnipeg flew out of Minneapolis, headed for Montreal. They’ll face the Canadiens at 6 p.m. CST on Monday night.