The Winnipeg Jets dug themselves a big first period hole on Wednesday night and they simply couldn’t dig their way out.
Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman scored for the Toronto Maple Leafs in that opening period and that’s all the visiting Leafs needed as Toronto beat Winnipeg 3-1 at Bell MTS Place in a game that could have meant first place in the North Division for the Jets.
As things turned out, Toronto improved to 23-10-3 and built a three-point lead over the second place Jets who fell to 22-13-2. Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell won his seventh straight game.
“It was a pretty sticky start,” said Jets assistant captain Mark Scheifele. “There is no other way to slice it, but we really came back in the second period and showed a lot of resiliency and a lot of heart. We got our chances but Campbell started strong and made a lot of nice saves.”
The Leafs went ahead 3-0 on a second-period shorthanded goal by Alexander Kerfoot, but Josh Morrissey answered, taking a pass from Mark Scheifele and blasting a slapper from the point over the glove of Jack Campbell.
The teams went to the break with the Leafs on top 3-1, although the Jets, who were outshot 14-6 in the first period, outshot Toronto 16-7 in the second. And they played that period without captain Blake Wheeler who was injured late in the first period and played his final shift of the night with 2:25 remaining in the first.
“(Losing Wheeler) was tough,” said Scheifele. “Obviously he’s a rock for us, he’s hear and soul so it’s tough to see him not come back. But we played hard. A lot of guys stepped in and played some more minutes and did a good job for us.”
The third period was almost completely uneventful. The Jets had a couple of chances. Scheifele had a clear shot in the final minute that appeared to be wired but Campbell picked it out of the air. In the end, each team had five shots in the third as the Jets outshot the Leafs 27-26 on the night.
Matthews finished with a goal and an assist while Marner had two assists. The Jets outhit Toronto 27-14, won 52 per cent of the face-offs and had only six giveaways to Toronto’s 16, but quite obviously, on this night at least, stats were for losers.
The three stars as selected on Wednesday night by Carter Brooks and Scott Taylor of Game On Magazine were Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner of the Leafs and Josh Morrissey of the Jets.
The Jets and Leafs go at it again in Winnipeg on Friday night as the Jest play the second game of their four-game homestand. Game time on TSN3 is 7 p.m.