Despite being outshot 2:1 for nearly 50 minutes of Thursday’s game in Montreal, the Winnipeg Jets held on to an early lead and finished the game with an empty net tally, sealing a road trip-opening 4-2 victory over the Canadiens.
Following an impromptu home matchup with the visiting Ottawa Senators on Monday, the Jets travelled to Montreal for the first of two-straight against the Habs. Beginning a five-game road trip at the Bell Centre, Winnipeg hoped to build upon its recent success against le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Battling the Habs for the seventh time this season, the Jets entered Thursday’s game with a 4-2-0 record against Montreal. However, the Canadiens entered the game with a 5-1-2 record in their last eight games at home. Three of Winnipeg’s victories over Montreal came by way of an overtime winner.
The big storyline out of Winnipeg prior to the battle was that of team captain Blake Wheeler’s inability to travel with the club on the road trip due to lingering effects following an elbow to the head by Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk on Monday. Without their leader on the ice or in the dressing room, an opening presented itself within the roster for someone to step up in Wheeler’s absence.
Much to head coach Paul Maurice’s appreciation, that role was filled by a collective full-team approach. Beginning the game with a quick goal, before giving one up, the team battled back for a strong first period showing.
Winnipeg collected three of the four total goals in the opening frame, with Josh Morrissey opening the scoring just 18 seconds into the game. With Mathieu Perreault leading the rush on an early three-on-one, the recently promoted winger found the trailer Morrissey, who wristed the puck past Jake Allen on the Jets’ first shot of the game.
Coming off a 3-2 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, in which the Habs gave up the first goal of the game to Auston Matthews on the Leafs’ first shot, they did so again on Thursday. However, much like their response 1:21 after Toronto’s opening goal the day prior, Montreal scored 1:22 after Morrissey’s strike, knotting the game up at ones with just 1:40 ticked off the clock against Winnipeg.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi chased down a puck in the corner and turned and fired it on net. The rebound bounced out to Phil Danault, who backhanded it past Connor Hellebuyck, bringing the Habs right back into the game just over a minute after Morrissey’s game-opening tally.
But then just six minutes later, Trevor Lewis restored Winnipeg’s lead on a beautiful floating setup pass from defenceman Neal Pionk. Jumping into the offence, Pionk led a rush up ice, before he pulled wide and floated a wrist shot towards the top of the crease. Lewis reached his stick out and tapped it past Allen and into the net.
Then it was Nikolaj Ehlers’ turn to get involved in the goal-scoring action. Taking a bank pass up ice from Logan Stanley, Ehlers got the puck past a flat-footed Jeff Petry, before blowing wide towards the net. His low wrist shot fooled Allen for his 16th goal of the season, and first in his last 10 games.
Through 20 minutes, the Jets were outshot 2:1, finishing the first period up 3-1 but behind in the shot chart, 18-9. Hellebuyck made a number of big saves, but none larger than a late-period stop on Kotkaniemi with just over a minute remaining in the opening frame.
The second period saw Montreal continue blowing up the competition in terms of shots on net. After Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen hit posts early in the frame, Montreal was able to put another one past Hellebuyck, albeit on a rather strange bounce. A Jeff Petry dump in took a fortuitous bounce off the end glass before landing on the stick of Paul Byron, who put it past an out-of-position Connor Hellebuyck.
“Some things just feel inevitable, right? That one wasn’t even in the glass, that one was on the boards,” Hellebuyck laughed. “You know, I’ve been extra careful, especially here. But sometimes it’s just meant to happen. You know, I get a little bit angry because I have no control over that kind of a bounce. I just move on and that’s kind of the story of this year, those crappy bounces. I just can’t really afford to give up another one so that become my main focus, shutting it down.”
Through 40 minutes of play, Winnipeg maintained its 3-2 lead, while continuing to be outshot 2:1, giving up 29 shots to its 15 shots on net to start the third period.
The most action of the third period came on a late-period power play for the Jets as Nick Suzuki found himself in the box for high sticking Winnipeg’s Mason Appleton during some offensive zone pressure. Although unable to materialize a goal on the man advantage, the Jets did drain the clock to just two minutes remaining through the power play.
Allen found himself on the bench for the extra attacker shortly after. But with the Jets seemingly running around frantically, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor were able to escape the pressure with a calm play around a defender, before dishing the puck to Andrew Copp, who put the puck into the empty net for his 13th goal of the season with just 38 seconds left in the game, sealing the deal on a 4-2 victory.
Hellebuyck stopped 36 of Montreal’s 38 shots on the night, while seeing his record improve to 19-10-3 with the win on Thursday. His counterpart Jake Allen turned aside 23 of Winnipeg’s 26 shots, who saw his record fall to 5-5-4 on the season.
With the win, the Jets now sit at 24-13-3 through 40 games, giving the team 49 points and a .655 points percentage. Entering the game eight points back of Toronto for first place, and one point back of Edmonton for second, the Jets continued to cover ground in the seemingly endless chase for pole position.
Now one game into the penultimate road trip of the season, the Jets will battle Montreal once again on Saturday evening in the first game of Hockey Night in Canada (Sportsnet). Winnipeg will then travel to Ottawa for another two-game set before finishing off in Toronto with one game. The final three games of the heater can be viewed live on TSN.