On Monday evening, the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks met up for the sixth time of the season, with Winnipeg holding the advantage (3-2-0) coming into the matchup. Having shut out the Jets on March 1 at Bell MTS Place, the Canucks lost the following day 5-2 in the teams’ most recent squabble.
Monday’s game proved to be a lot closer to the former of those two games from the highlighted set than the latter. This time, however, the script flipped, with Connor Hellebuyck holding his own and turning aside all 22 of Vancouver’s shots en route to his first shutout of the season in Winnipeg’s 4-0 victory.
“We’ve been playing some good hockey, but we just haven’t gotten the results we wanted in the last two,” Hellebuyck said post-game. “We needed this one to show that we are playing the right way and to not stray away from it. Everyone was playing their hearts out tonight and it really showed.”
Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice once again opted to go with the same lineup as he dressed in the team’s previous game, while only switching up two of the defensive pairs. Tucker Poolman skated alongside Josh Morrissey, while Dylan DeMelo shifted to pair with rookie Logan Stanley on the team’s third partnership.
Monday also marked the 977th game of Paul Stastny’s career, tying his father Peter’s record in NHL games played. Despite only suiting up in 51 games for Winnipeg, the veteran forward has spent the duration of his career within the league’s Western Conference. Although now with identical games played stat lines, Paul trails his father by 494 total points (1,239 vs. 745) while currently sitting 190 goals short of his dad’s 450 career markers. Stastny finished Monday’s game with a lone late-game tally.
“It’s special, I think every time we are mentioned in the same sentence together, especially in the sense of hockey accomplishments it’s always special,” Stastny said. “It’s obviously something, he’s my biggest mentor, I’m his biggest fan and vice versa. So to be mentioned with the same amount of games, now one more and I’ll have one up on him. That’ll be the only thing I got going for myself. It’s exciting; I’m honoured and I think it’s just speaks to the hard work that I’ve put in and the hard work that my family has put in to just enjoy the game and have fun out there. I feel very blessed to be playing the game.”
Despite going up against the North Division’s hottest goaltender through the month of March in Thatcher Demko (8-1-0, 1.74 goals against average, .950 save percentage in March), the Jets were able to strike first on Monday, doing so for the 18th time this season. Off a defensive zone faceoff, Blake Wheeler collected the puck and raced up ice with Paul Stastny. Looking off his buddy, Wheeler opted to shoot the puck, beating the Canucks’ tendy five-hole for his ninth of the season on the game’s opening goal.
Demko did, however, bounce back nicely, with two sizeable stops on chances by Nikolaj Ehlers and on another Wheeler/Stastny two-on-one late in the period. Finishing slightly ahead atop the shot chart of the opening frame (11-9) Winnipeg allowed the Canucks just one great look, with defenceman Quinn Hughes ringing a point shot off the post high, glove side.
The middle stanza offered little in terms of scoring opportunities, with the Jets putting up 11 shots to Vancouver’s six for a two-period total of 22-15 for the visitors. Winnipeg did, however, pull ahead in shot attempts in the second, registering 49 shot attempts to the Canucks’ 38 through 40 minutes. Both teams also had one unsuccessful man advantage in the period.
The Jets wasted little time getting some insurance, most notably from the third line. Just 2:07 into the third period, Adam Lowry collected a Mason Appleton while moving up-ice, and took a shot on net that deflected off Manitoban Travis Hamonic and up over Demko and into the net, giving Winnipeg a 2-0 lead with nearly the entire period to play.
“That was top shelf; that was nice,” Lowry laughed. “It was one of those broken plays. I lose a face-off, they move around, the puck goes around, a blocked shot. I kind of get up the ice. Appleton makes a good breakout pass. Just trying to find Copper and a lucky bounce. It kind of went up in the air, seemed like slow motion. One of those ones that ends up in the back of the net. I’ll take it however I can get it.”
Then, midway through the frame, Lowry collected his second of the game and seventh of the season on a pretty setup play from Josh Morrissey and Andrew Copp. Of a Morrissey point shot, Copp perfectly one-touched the puck to Lowry, who found himself all alone at the opposite side of the net, who put it past a sprawling Demko, for the sixth career two-goal game of his career.
On the night in which he tied his father on the all-time games played list, Paul Stastny collected a goal with 3:00 left in the game. Picking up an offensive zone pass from Mark Scheifele, Stastny fired a wrist shot past an out-of-position Demko, putting the nail on the coffin for the Jets.
Despite three third period posts from Jordie Benn, Adam Gaudette and Alex Edler, the Canucks were unable to muster up much in terms of offensive opportunities through the game’s 60 minutes.
“You know, I thought I had really good positioning and I forced a lot of those posts,” Hellebuyck reflected. “I know the Edler one at the end – I think it was him – but I got a piece of it and forced it to hit the post. Any time I can be in position and make those guys make a perfect shot I get better chances of the posts coming into play, so I’m happy with it.”
Hellebuyck finished the night by turning aside all 22 of Vancouver shots, and saw his record improve to 14-9-2 on the season. With the loss Demko’s record fell to 12-11-1 through his 24 games. The Jets finished atop the shot chart 29-22. Winnipeg is now 19-11-2 on the season and narrows the division lead to two points (Toronto, Edmonton), while Vancouver fell to 16-17-3.
“He’s been really good for us and had some big nights,” coach Maurice said of Hellebuyck’s play. “It was good for him to get a shutout. That doesn’t get old for goaltenders. He’s still bragging about his fancy footwork off the post on the one. But he made a bunch of saves that made the end result possible… and getting stronger as they game went on.”
The Jets now continue their season-long, seven-game road trip on Wednesday with the second of two-straight matchups with the Canucks. Winnipeg will then fly to Calgary for three games in four days against the Flames, beginning on Friday. The team returns home to Bell MTS Place on March 31 for a two-game set with the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs. Wednesday’s late-night contest will get underway at 9:30 PM central and can be viewed live on TSN.