On Wednesday, members of the Winnipeg Jets packed their suitcases and headed down to Bell MTS Place for a late-night rematch against the Montreal Canadiens – who had previously beaten the North Division’s second-place team 4-2 on Monday night – before boarding a flight to Edmonton, where the team will begin a seven-game, western Canada road trip Thursday night.
After giving up four goals to the Habs just two nights prior, Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets hoped to bounce back with a stronger defensive performance on Tuesday. In yet another game requiring an extra period to find the winner, Winnipeg and Montreal went to overtime for the third time in six meetings so far this season, where the Jets needed just 55 seconds to find a winner.
Leading the way offensively for Winnipeg was the trio of Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers, who combined for three goals and seven points en route to a 4-3 overtime victory.
“Well I mean, you score on the first shift, as a team that’s always nice,” Ehlers said post-game. “You wish you could start every single game like that. But you know what, a start like that just shows that our leaders and our captain was ready to go. That got us going right off the start and I think that we kept that going throughout the game. I think that we played a good game. There are some things that we need to fix, obviously. Bucky was fantastic today and we got the two points. We bounced back.”
The Jets put together a two-goal opening period, wasting no time getting the offence rolling. Captain Blake Wheeler opened the scoring just 50 seconds into the game, before Kyle Connor added another with 4:14 left in the frame.
Interestingly, after a game in which the visiting Canadiens capitalized with a goal on a hesitant decision by defenceman Derek Forbort on a neutral zone pinch, both of the Winnipeg’s first period goals were started by strong pinches from the Winnipeg blueliner.
Wheeler registered his eighth goal of the season off a strong offensive zone, cross-ice pass from Forbort, to which he fired past Carey Price’s blocker hand, opening the scoring in the early going. Kyle Connor put his 15th into the Habs’ net after a nifty setup from Nikolaj Ehlers, who got the puck to his linemate off a strong screen/chip play from Pierre-Luc Dubois on the doorstep.
With both teams having opportunities on the power play in the opening frame, neither the Jets nor Canadiens could capitalize on much more than a clean zone entry, let alone a high danger scoring chance on the man advantage. Shots after 20 minutes read 11-11.
The teams traded goals in the second period, with the Habs responding quickly in the opening moments of the frame. Just 1:26 in, a poor Logan Stanley pinch led to a Montreal two-on-one featuring Brendan Gallagher and Phil Danault. After Gallagher collected the puck, Tucker Poolman took away the passing option, but Danault opted to keep, putting a wrist shot past Hellebuyck midway up the cage blocker side.
But then with 6:18 left in the period, Winnipeg restored its two-goal lead on yet another blueline pinch. This time it was alternate captain Josh Morrissey, who stepped up and kept the puck in the Habs’ defensive zone. It skirted to Pierre-Luc Dubois, whose low shot rebounded directly to a net-driving Connor, who cleaned up the garbage on the Jets’ third goal of the game and his team-leading 16th marker of the season.
Through 40 minutes, the home team led 3-1 and held a minimal 19-18 advantage on the shot chart.
The Canadiens scored their second goal of the game just 5:58 into the third period, on an offensive zone face-off. With Adam Lowry actually winning the draw back to Neal Pionk, Gallagher picked his pocket and walked directly to the net and tucked the puck past Hellebuyck five-hole, cutting the Jets’ lead to one goal with nearly three-quarters of the period to play.
With 1:25 to go and Carey Price on the Habs’ bench for the extra attacker, the visitors tied the game on their 35th shot of the night. Corey Perry fed a wide-open Tyler Toffoli, whose 18th goal of the season brought Montreal back to a tie score for the first time since the game’s opening 50 seconds.
“Not losing two straight is just a testament to the leadership, kind of character we’ve got in the locker room,” Connor said of his team’s effort. “You get a little bitter, a little sour taste and everybody, if we lose a game, we know that next night we’re coming out hard. Tonight, I thought overall, pretty good game. We let off the gas in the third period. It could be a function that they’re down 3-1 and they’re pushing. They got the D up and they’re pinching on everything. That’s an area that we can work on as a team. We’re going to have leads coming down here in the stretch that we got to work on and get better.”
Needing overtime once again, Hellebuyck made a monster game-saver in the early going, before Nik Ehlers collected the rebound and carried it up ice. With his fellow line mates at his side, he opted to shoot the puck himself, beating Price five-hole and winning the game and evening the two-game series with Montreal.
“Yeah, I already said thank you to Bucky,” Ehlers said on the wild overtime sequence leading to his winter. “He saved me a little there. I mean, I should have had it, but that’s three-on-three right there. You get a big chance one way that usually ends up either in the net, or it’s going the other way for a big chance. So luckily today it went the right way for us.”
Hellebuyck finished the night with 33 saves on 36 Toronto shots, and saw his record improve to 13-8-2 on the season. With the loss Price’s record dropped to 9-5-5, turning aside 26 of the 30 pucks fired his way. Winnipeg is now 17-9-2 on the season. Wednesday’s win also marked the 750th victory of head coach Paul Maurice’s NHL career.
“We’ve been pretty strong in the third and we’ll take the two points, find a way to win,” Maurice said of the collapse. “You don’t want to give up two goals the way we did but you find that desperation in all of these games. They did things in the third period they won’t do in the first or second. Their D were below our goal line consistently and we were able to use that a little bit in the first two periods and didn’t get to use it in the third.”
Immediately following the game, Winnipeg hopped on its private jet and chartered itself to Alberta for Thursday’s road battle against the Edmonton Oilers. Winnipeg and Edmonton will begin a two-game set on Thursday and conclude as the late-night game on Saturday evening on Hockey Night in Canada.
Speaking of late-night matchups, after Thursday’s 8:00 PM central start, the Jets’ next six games will feature start times of 9:00 PM central or later as they fulfill a seven-game western Canada road trip that will also see games in Vancouver and Calgary, before the team returns home for a two-game set against Toronto on March 31 and April 2.