The Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens squared off from Bell MTS Place on Thursday evening. Following an all-too-familiar storyline, the home team fell behind early, but managed to come back with a strong, drawn-out effort, doubling up the Canadiens 6-3 in a strong come-from-behind victory.
Fresh off a coaching change that saw Dominique Ducharme take over behind the bench for the recently fired Claude Julien, Montreal came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Led by former Jets forward Joel Armia, the Habs turned up the heat in the early going on Thursday evening.
Armia opened the scoring with 6:15 to play in the first period. Carrying the puck into the Jets’ zone, he fired a hard wrist shot on net that beat Connor Hellebuyck five-hole, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead. But Armia wasn’t quite done there. Just 3:46 later, the Winnipeg cast-off potted he second of the night on a pretty two-on-one passing play with Jonathan Drouin. Finishing the first period tied with the Habs with eight shots, Winnipeg trailed 2-0 on the scoreboard.
“Actually, I thought our first period wasn’t too bad,” Kyle Connor said post-game. “We did a lot of good things and both our goals we gave them, we knew they were a transition team and they get a lot of slot shots and funnel pucks to the net. I thought for the most part we held them pretty good, just a couple of turnovers, so that was kind of the talk between periods and I think we came out pretty well in the second and third.”
That deficit, however, would be eliminated little-by-little in the middle stanza. With Shea Weber in the box for delay of game, Connor capitalized on an early-period Jets’ man advantage. Off a Mark Scheifele shot, Blake Wheeler batted the bouncing puck off Carey Price, where the rebound landed in crease for Connor to pound into the yawning cage.
Midway through the frame and with Neal Pionk in the box for high-sticking, Montreal got back to a two-goal lead with Tomas Tatar’s fifth of the season. But then four minutes later, Connor got his second of the game and 10th of the season off a beautiful passing play, in which the entire five-man group touched the puck on a breakout up ice.
Blake Wheeler tied it up on a long-range wrist shot three minutes after that, beating Price on what appeared to be a deflected puck. Pionk carried the puck up ice and dropped to his captain who fired the wrist shot from the top of the circle, bringing the teams to 3-3 through 40 minutes, with Winnipeg taking a slight 19-15 advantage in shots on net.
“I think it’s huge,” Pierre-Luc Dubois said of the team’s ability to rally from behind. ” I think perseverance is a key factor in winning hockey games. Eventually, the goal is to win a Stanley Cup. I think the more you go through it throughout the season, the more prepared you are for the playoffs. If you don’t get those couple good bounces in the first period, you’re not fazed by it. A couple of time, we felt like were in the game, playing well, and maybe bounces weren’t going our way and we’re down 2-0. But you don’t want to change too much. You want to go back to the second period and go back to your game. We showed that tonight.”
The third period saw the Jets earn their first lead of the game and then add two more for the fun of it. Nate Thompson got the winner with 13:23 remaining on a strong effort from Mason Appleton in the offensive zone. Pierre-Luc Dubois picked up the Jets’ fifth goal on a pass from Mathieu Perreault before banking the puck off Price and into the Habs’ net. Scheifele scored his 11th of the season on an empty Montreal net with 1:38 left to play.
“Every guy in the lineup, whatever role it is, he wants to be able to contribute in some way,” Thompson said of his game-winner. “I was kind of champing at the bit. I got my opportunity playing with Apps and Lows that whole shift. Apps made a good play and I just tried to bury my chance. That’s what it’s all about, when you get your chance you try to make the most of it.”
Scheifele extended his point streak to a career-high 11 games. He also now leads the team in goals scored. Nikolaj Ehlers fought Corey Perry late in the third period in a rather lopsided tilt. While Nate Thompson collected his first goal as a Winnipeg Jet, which turned out to be the game-winner. The win was the Jets’ 200th all-time at Bell MTS Place. The Jets are now 6-2-0 when trailing after 20 minutes.
“I almost like our 2-0 comeback in the quality of our play more than when you score first and you hang onto it,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “So, I’m not looking for the moment where we just kind of get our game together and then we’re up by two, and then four, then six and that’s just right because we’re that good. That’s foolishness. We’re scratching and crawling in all of these games and we have a little bit more maturity in our lineup now, we’re a little bit older, so we can handle some of these emotions of being down 2-0 early.”
Connor Hellebuyck collected his ninth win of the season and saw his record improve to 9-5-1 on the season with 19 saves on 21 shots against. Price had another off night, turning aside just 24 of the 29 shots he faced.
“I just think I am overthinking things right now,” the Habs netminder said post-game. “That’s all I’ve got for you.”
The two teams will face off against one another this Saturday from Bell MTS Place in the late-night game on Hockey Night in Canada. With puck drop coming at 9:00 PM, fans can tune in on Sportsnet or CBC for the Saturday night broadcast.