Sometimes you win a game you have no business being in. On Saturday evening, the Winnipeg Jets did just that.
Narrowly escaping the Montreal Canadiens by way of a tight 2-1 overtime victory late on Saturday evening, the home team gave up a whopping 78 shot attempts to its North Division opponent.
Led by goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and forward Nikolaj Ehlers, the Jets looked to build off the 6-3 home victory earned just two nights prior at Bell MTS Place in the first meeting of the season between the Canadian rivals on Thursday.
“I was able to get into a good flow,” Hellebuyck said of his performance post-game. “All the guys in front of me blocked a lot of key shots tonight and really controlled where the shots were coming from. Not only that, but we were controlling the rebounds too. I think the whole team’s defence was very solid down our middle tonight.”
Although a lower scoring affair than that of the previous matchup, Saturday’s battle certainly did not lack value in the form of entertainment. With the two clubs playing the majority of the contest with the score tied, the already late-night matchup required overtime, to which Winnipeg struck once again with its three-forward attack.
The first period provided little to nothing on the side of offensive contribution from the Jets’ standpoint. Montreal, however, doubled up the home team in shots with 14, while coming close on a number of opportunities. Although no score through 20 minutes, the best chance of the period came on an Alexander Romanov point shot that found its way past Connor Hellebuyck, but not the post, as it rang off the crossbar in the early going.
Following a rather dormant opening frame, the two teams exchanged goals in the second period, with Nikolaj Ehlers and Nick Suzuki getting their respective clubs on the board. Shortly after a Kyle Connor crossbar, Romanov found his second post of the game as the Habs continued offensive zone pressure on the host team.
Fresh off a strong power play chance in the goalmouth, Andrew Copp won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly back to Ehlers, who wired his 11th of the season past Jake Allen, giving Winnipeg a 1-0 lead with 9:22 to go in the middle stanza. But not even five minutes later, the visitors tied things back up at ones, as Suzuki and Joel Armia outmuscled Josh Morrissey and Mark Scheifele in the corner for a loose puck, to which Suzuki escaped and banked the puck off Hellebuyk and into the net from behind the goal line.
Suzuki’s game-tying marker from a near-impossible angle came with 4:47 to go in a period that saw Montreal continue to outshoot Winnipeg, this time putting up 13 shots in the frame, compared to that of nine of the Jets. Through 40 minutes, the teams remained deadlocked on the scoreboard, despite the visitors owning the shot tally, 27-16.
With both teams looking to capitalize on the two available points, a strong third period was expected. Montreal turned up the heat once again, owning the puck possession statistic category, playing the majority of the third in the Jets’ end. Limiting Winnipeg to just two shots through the frame, the Habs put 14 pucks on net themselves, but were unable to solve Hellebuyck.
With the game tied through 60 minutes overtime was required, and Paul Maurice went with a three-forward attack. Once again his first unit struck just 36 seconds into the extra frame. Just seconds after a Nik Ehlers post, Connor got the puck back to Ehlers, whose shot snuck through Allen, before Paul Stastny was able to tap it across the goal line for the 2-1 victory.
“I think it was the first time for me today,” Ehlers said of the overtime period. “It’s worked the two times we’ve done it this year. So when you have the puck, it’s a lot easier. I haven’t experienced not having the puck in overtime when you’re playing with three forwards. But it’s a lot of fun and I think no matter who you go out there with, you’re going to get a chance. So 3-on-3 overtime is a lot of fun.”
“I thought today, Montreal was the better team,” Stastny said candidly. “We got lucky, Montreal hit a couple posts, Bucky was unbelievable for us. He didn’t give up a lot of rebounds, he was fighting through traffic and kind of controlling everything. Obviously he’s the reason we got the two points tonight. You’re going to have games like that. When things aren’t going your way you just gotta find a way. Whether you get a point or two points, sometimes you grind those wins out or sometimes you grind those overtime points out, and tonight was a perfect example of that.”
Connor Hellebuyck (10-5-1), who played sensationally once again turned aside 40 of Montreal’s 41 shots in Saturday’s overtime win, while Jake Allen (4-2-2) looked sharp for the Habs in relief of Carey Price, stopping 18 shots on the night. With the win the Jets saw their record improve to 13-6-1 on the season.
“You’ve got to go through a little bit of adversity,” Hellebuyck added. “You’ve got to fail a little bit and you’ve got to realize what it feels like to lose and to lose tight games or big games. You’ve got to remember how bad it feels and maybe that gives you a little boost and a little bit of extra energy when you really need it.”
Saturday’s game marked the first of a three-game-in-four-nights stretch for Winnipeg, as the Vancouver Canucks travel to Manitoba for the second time this season for a two-game stint beginning on Monday.
The Canucks won the first game at Bell MTS Place on January 30 by a score of 4-1. The Jets won both games in Vancouver against the Canucks last week and will look to continue that trend on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Both games feature 7:00 PM central start times and can be viewed live on TSN.