After seeing their two-game home series against the COVID-ridden Vancouver Canucks postponed for a date yet to be determined, the Winnipeg Jets appeared to be in line for nearly a full week off. The NHL had other plans. Despite being one of the busiest teams through the months of March and April, the Jets didn’t seem to need the rest, making easy work of the visiting Ottawa Senators in what became a closer victory than the 4-3 game dictated from Bell MTS Place on Monday.
“We found a way to win and let’s clean up what we have to clean up,” Andrew Copp said post-game. “So, obviously we let a few things get maybe a little bit lackadaisical – maybe not that, but like a little bit…I don’t know, we didn’t stay on the pedal as much as we needed to, maybe, a little bit so. But it’s a lesson to learn, for sure, as we as we go along here. We need to learn how to end games and kind of get it to get to the buzzer. So, you know, we were able to still do that, which is good, but we need to not let teams back in the game as we go along here.”
The Jets opened the scoring following a strong start to the period. An absolute shooting gallery led to Pierre-Luc Dubois’ eighth goal of the season. Taking a Logan Stanley offering, captain Blake Wheeler carried the puck behind the Ottawa net and fed Dubois from his backhand to the front of the net. The youngest Jet made no mistake putting the disc past Anton Forsberg in the Ottawa net.
“He’s a great passer,” Dubois said of Wheeler. “He makes it easy out there sometimes. We talked a bit … the practice yesterday felt good. Like I said, 2-on-2s and 2-on-1s and stuff like that, it helps, but he sees guys so well I just have to get in that open space and it’s more often than not on my blade. Stas, too, just makes it really easy for me out there, whether it’s in the D zone or the O zone and like I said before they’re two great people, two great guys. They’re always talking to me and telling me where they want me and stuff like that.”
Winnipeg held the Sens to just eight shots in the opening frame. Five of Ottawa’s shots came on the team’s three different man advantages in the first period; three shots came at even strength. Winnipeg had 14 tallies, with zero power play opportunities to its name. Despite many opportunities, the Jets led just 1-0 through 20 minutes of play.
The second period provided an offensive explosion from the home team, as Winnipeg rallied for three of the period’s four goals. Taking 22 shots in the frame, the Jets found the twine on two even-strength markers, while also capitalizing on a Brady Tkachuk slashing minor midway through the frame.
Adam Lowry got things going for the Jets just 4:19 into the period. Andrew Copp found his centreman cross-ice, who put a perfectly placed wrist shot past Forsberg top shelf, far side. But just 29 seconds after Lowry’s eighth of the season, the Senators found a goal of their own.
A strange bouncing puck behind the Jets’ net evaded both defenceman Derek Forbort and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Ryan Dzingel maintained eye contact with the bouncer and banked it off Hellebuyck’s pad and into the net, cutting Winnipeg’s lead in half less than a half minute after the team went up 2-0.
The action didn’t stop there, however, as Tkachuk found himself in the sin bin for a retaliatory slash on Jets forward Mathieu Perreault. Using 1:59 of the two minutes awarded, Winnipeg found a power play marker, once again off the stick of Pierre-Luc Dubois. With Forsberg scrambling the crease without a stick, Nik Ehlers found Copp, who got the puck cross-crease to Dubois who hammered another one into the Senators’ net.
“We’re really, really happy with Pierre,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s good for him to score goals. I know points are important, but he’s a really good young centreiceman that’s going to get better. I like him with Blake a lot. I think that’s helped his game. Maybe he feels better confidence-wise, scores two… I’m good with him. This is been a good thing for our team, we’re winning hockey games. He’s helped us do that. I guess numbers are important, they tell you more imperially that a guy’s having an impact in a game. But there’s so much growth here for this young man and he’s going to be a good player for the Jets for a long time. I’m good with where he’s at.”
Kyle Connor added to the rout shortly after a Neal Pionk power play shot found the iron. On a rush up ice, Mark Scheifele found Connor with speed entering the Senators’ zone. Connor attempted to put the puck back across ice, but it deflected off Chris Tierney’s stick and went directly into the Ottawa net, giving Winnipeg a demanding 4-1 lead. The goal was Connor’s team-leading 18th marker of the season.
Not going down without a fight, the North Division’s lowest-ranked team managed to get back on the scoreboard after Winnipeg’s three-goal second period outburst. With just six seconds to go in a Logan Stanley holding infraction, Josh Norris ripped a powerful wrist shot past Hellebucyk top-glove. Norris’ ninth goal came with a little over nine minutes to play in the final period.
Then with 3:09 remaining in the game, an Artem Anisimov net drive resulted in Ottawa’s third goal of the game. Drawing both defenders to himself, Anisimov made a slick drop pass to Connor Brown on the foot of the crease, who calmly put it into the open net, bringing the Senators to within one goal with a few minutes to play.
“I thought we had some shots, we had the right mentality offensively and I thought we didn’t spend much time in our zone in the first two and even in the third for a good chunk of that period and then just stuff happens,” Dubois reflected. “Obviously it’s not how you want it to go, how you script it but it’s never going to be easy and you’ve got to deal with adversity because stuff like that is going to happen late as the season goes on into the playoffs. It’s just part of the game. It’s not how you want it to go but you’ve got to learn from it.”
Unfortunately for Ottawa, that was it for scoring on the night. With Forsberg on the bench for the extra attacker, the Jets came close to putting the nail on the coffin with an empty-netter, but a long-range Paul Stastny snap shot found the iron. Finishing the night with 46 shots to Ottawa’s 23, the Jets took the game 4-3.
Hellebuyck stopped 20 of Ottawa’s 23 shots on the night, while seeing his record improve to 18-10-3 with the win on Monday. His counterpart Anton Forsberg turned aside 42 of Winnipeg’s 46 shots, who saw his record fall to 1-1-0 on the season.
With the victory, Winnipeg’s record now sits at 23-13-3 through 39 games, giving the team 49 points and a .628 points percentage. The Jets now sit one point clear of Edmonton for second place in the division, while trailing Toronto by four points, despite the Leafs having one game in hand on Winnipeg.
Now having completed three-straight games within the familiar confines of Bell MTS Place, the Jets will head back out on the road for an eastern Canada road trip through Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Playing two games against each of the Canadiens and Senators before finishing off in Toronto with one game, Winnipeg will get used to 6:00 PM central start times. Four of the five games can be found on TSN, while Saturday’s matchup against Montreal will be aired live on Sportsnet and CITY.