The season-long seven-game homestand has come to a conclusion. And according to the Winnipeg Jets, it was a success. Going 4-2-1 in the past seven games at Bell MTS Place, the Jets put the cherry on the top with a 4-1 win over the visiting Calgary Flames on Thursday.
The game was the third of four-straight between the Canadian Division rivals. And of the two most recent matchups, it was Winnipeg’s most complete game. Despite falling behind late in the first period, the Jets battled back, picking up goals off the sticks of three different players, while seeing starter Connor Hellebuyck earn 23 saves for his fifth win and 153rd career victory, a new franchise record for Winnipeg (Ondrej Pavelec – 152).
“At this moment, it means a lot,” Hellebuyck said of his record win. “I care a lot about this organization, they’ve given me my shot and I care about the guys in front of me. It’s a testament to all the guys that I’ve played with. We just keep racking up wins, and it’s really exciting and I’m really glad I get to share it with these guys. A lot of guys have been with me from the beginning and I’m looking forward to the future now.”
It took until the final minute of the opening period for the game to see its first goal. The visitors capitalized with 55.7 seconds left to play with the Jets trapped in their own end following a misplayed puck. Flames’ defenceman Juuso Valimaki set Andrew Mangiapane up perfectly at the side of the net for an easy redirection off an accurate point-pass.
The goal was Mangiapane’s first of the period, and came on the Flames’ 11th and final shot of the frame, pulling one shot ahead of Winnipeg through the first 20 minutes of action. Calgary also did have two unsuccessful power play opportunities in the frame, failing to capitalize on minor penalties to Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor.
Entering the middle stanza trailing by one goal, Winnipeg turned its fortunes around rather quickly, as Mason Appleton found his second goal in three games just 3:31 into the frame. Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry collected assists as Appleton dove to poke a loose puck past Markstrom for his second of the season.
Fast-forward to the 14-minute mark of the period, where the Jets found another marker. This time, courtesy of a Kyle Connor breakaway. Stealing the puck off Mikael Backlund in his own zone, Connor skated the length of the ice before wiring his seventh of the season short-side into the Flames’ net.
Winnipeg was not done there. In putting up 20 shot attempts for in the frame (compared to just seven attempts against) the Jets found a third goal of the game off the stick of centre Mark Scheifele with just 51 seconds remaining. He collected the rebound off a Neal Pionk point shot and put it past Markstrom for a 3-1 lead for the home team.
With Calgary scoring on its final shot of the first period, Winnipeg found three in the second, including a goal on the final shot of the frame, giving the Jets the two-goal lead. Winnipeg held a 21-18 shot advantage through 40 minutes.
The Jets ground out the final 20 minutes of the game – with the help of a couple goalposts – holding Calgary to 24 shots, and putting the finishing touches on a 4-1 win with Mason Appleton’s second of the game into an empty net. The win improved the club’s record to 7-3-1. Hellebuyck stopped 23 pucks for the win, while Markstrom turned aside just 23 of Winnipeg’s 26 shots fired his way.
“He’s a competitor,” Lowry said of Hellebuyck. “He wants to win every night. We appreciate that he gives us a chance night in and night out. He’s the backbone of our team and to give him not necessarily an easier night because he did make some big saves, made some big saves on the PK, and when the game’s tight but a game when he’s not having to face 35 or 40 shots it certainly makes life easier on a goalie. To see him get that franchise record, it’s certainly well-earned. He’s a guy that works every day at his game and he’s continued to get better. And he’s never satisfied. He gets the Vezina last year and rightfully so, he really deserved that, he’s kind of come in this year and picked up where he left off and he gives us a chance to win every night.”
“We really like where our game is at, we like our position in the standings,” Perreault said. “This gonna be a tight battle for the entire season so the more points we can get early, the better. This home stand has been good for us so we’re gonna build on that and hopefully get on the road and keep building.”
According to head coach Paul Maurice, he has seen his team grow substantially over the past number of games, ultimately leading to the 7-3-1 record through 11 contests.
“I thought after the Toronto game where we struggled, we didn’t play very well in that game, I thought we learned some lessons as we went into the Ottawa series,” Maurice reflected. “Ottawa was really playing hard and confident at that time. We learned some lessons, we got a little bit better. We came out of the Edmonton game, it was a tough, tough defeat, and learned some lessons. And even the same in the first of the Calgary series. I think this team learns fast. And I think they can process the game at a high level. The bench is great right now, the room’s great, the practices are sharp. I think they’re having fun playing together. They look like a group that’s learning together and working on their own game.”
Now having concluded its season-long, seven-game homestand, Winnipeg will travel to Calgary for the final of four-straight contests against the Flames on Tuesday – yes, following Super Bowl Sunday. With a couple days off between games, the Jets will look to find a victory at Scotiabank Saddledome in the 9:00 PM showdown against a very familiar foe. The game can once again be viewed live on TSN.