Just when it looked as if the Winnipeg Jets season was all but over, the home side goes out and beats the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Jack Roslovic had two goals and an assist, Sami Niku had a pair of assists and Andrew Copp, Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine scored the other goals as the Jets whipped the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Saturday night.
Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck outdueled Blues sensation Jordan Binnington, making 38 saves en route to his 22ndwin of the season.
With the win, the Jets got a large, angry gorilla off their backs. Winnipeg had lost five straight games heading into Saturday night’s affair. They were also 1-7-1 in their last nine home games and were playing another back-to-back game, as were the Blues.
“With both teams on back-to-backs, the quality of our game yesterday was better than the quality of our game today,” said head coach Paul Maurice, referring to Friday night’s 2-1 loss to Boston. “We expected that coming in.”
Still, with an impressive victory over perhaps the best team in the Western Conference, Winnipeg improved to 12-12-2 at home this season and now 26-23-4 overall. With 56 points they are still a long way from the playoffs but at this stage, it’s one game at a time.
On Saturday night, in front of another full house at Bell MTS place, the Jets played a solid first period. Although they were outshot 14-12 by the defending Stanley Cup champions, that was simply because the Jets had plenty of shots atthe net and just as many missed it as hit it.
However, the Jets were eventually rewarded.
Late in the period, after another failed power play attempt, Jets defenseman Sami Niku picked up the puck at the St. Louis blueline and fed a perfect pass to a streaking Jack Roslovic who beat Jordan Binnington with a high wrist shot over the netminder’s shoulder. With Roslovic’s 10thof the year, Winnipeg went to the first intermission leading 1-0.
In the second period, St. Louis had almost complete territorial advantage, but the Jets took advantage of a couple chances late in the frame and appeared to bury the defending Stanley Cup champions.
At a point when the Jets had been outshot 14-6 in the period, Winnipeg capitalized on two big breaks. First, Roslovic picked up a loose puck in front and slipped it past Binnington for his second of the night and 11thof the season. Dmitry Kulikov ad Mark Scheifele drew the assists.
Just two minutes and 40 seconds later, at 19:45 of the period, Roslovic fed Andrew Copp who was crossing the Blues blueline and Copp drilled a wrister over Binnington’s glove to make it 3-0. It was Copp’s eighth of the year as Roslovic and Niku drew the assists.
The Jets had the final eight shots of the period and St. Louis held the edge in shots 28-26 after 40 minutes. Hellebuyck had been brilliant for the Jets.
In accordance with the Jets apparent rule of 2018-19 and 2019-20, they will not play to win, but instead they will play not to lose. In the third period, their prevent defense nearly destroyed an otherwise beautiful night.
The Blues’ Brayden Schenn scored at 13:20 to kill Hellebuyck’s shutout attempt and then Ryan O’Reilly scored at 15:50 to make everyone in the building nervous.
Then, for some unknown reason, with his Blues dominating the Jets, St. Louis coach Craig Berube decided to pull his goaltender with 2:45 left. His decision to empty his goal and try to get the equalizer early was a bad decision. First, Wheeler scored into an empty net at 18:29 and then Laine tallied an empty netter at 19:39 and a 3-2 Jets lead was suddenly 5-2.
Roslovic, Hellebuyck and Niku were the three stars, in that order. The Blues outshot Winnipeg 40-33 and won 56 per cent of the faceoffs. Winnipeg outhit St. Louis 14-13 but had 23 giveaways to the Blues four.
Roslovic had the best line of the night. He had two goals and an assist, was plus two, had four shots on goal and a blocked shot in just 12 minutes and 21 seconds of ice time. Wheeler finished the game with a goal and an assist while Scheifele had a pair of assists. Kyle Connor had an assist and a team-high five shots on goal.
Patrik Laine scored his 19th goal of the season and now has four goals in his past five games and seven points in his past nine games. He needs only one goal to reach 20 goals for the fourth consecutive season. On the upside, Laine is averaging .57 goals per game in February, which has been the second most productive month of his career.
Another month is starting, but looking back, Connor led the Jets in scoring in January with five goals and 12 points in 12 games. Scheifele also had double digit points last month with five goals and 10 points in 12 games. Neal Pionk led the Jets with 42 hits in January, while Luca Sbisa had a team-best 22 blocked shots. Scheifele leads the Jets in scoring at home this season with 11 goals and 25 points in 26 games while Connor has a team-leading 12 goals at home.
In two games at home this weekend, the Jets outscored their opponents 6-4 and yet mustered only one victory. On Friday, the Jets lost 2-1 in a game they should have won and on Saturday, won 5-2 in a game they should have closed out with ease. It’s just the way the season has gone.
Winnipeg will get back at it Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place when the Nashville Predators come to town for a 7 p.m. start.