On Thursday, the Winnipeg Jets made the flight to Toronto for the final matchup of a five-game road trip against the North Division’s first-place Maple Leafs. Only 2-2-2 in the season series heading into the game, the Jets relied on their league-leading 15 road wins and 31 road points in yet another strong showing as the visitors.
Ultimately winning the game 5-2, Winnipeg got multi-point performances from Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Schiefele, while netminder Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 31 pucks in earning his 21st victory of the season.
On Thursday, Ville Heinola made his return to the Jets’ lineup following an extended stay on the club’s taxi squad. After starting the year in Finland, Heinola participated in the World Juniors, to which he earned a bronze medal with Finland. He then skated in one game with Winnipeg, before being sent down to the Manitoba Moose. He was recalled in mid-March, to which he had been on the team’s taxi squad ever since.
“I think it was pretty solid for me,” Heinola reflected post-game. “I was one month without playing so it was kind of hard to go in but I just tried to do those simple things first. Get that good first pass and try to battle hard and I think it was an okay game.”
Jumping in in replacement of Logan Stanley, Heinola finished the night with a total of 12:34 total time spent on ice, despite finishing a -1.
“As I said before, I wasn’t going to assess his game one way or the other,” head coach Paul Maurice said of Heinola’s performance. “That’s not him on the goal. So get in, get through it. Have enough presence to play your game simply. There’s nothing glaring there, which is really good. So he did what he needed to do. We know he can get through a game. We’ll have opportunities as we go forward here to get him to play more. But it was a good game for him.”
Toronto took just 3:41 to open the scoring on somewhat of a strange play. Some nice puck movement between John Tavares and Mitch Marner led to a setup pass to Alex Galchenyuk at the top of the Jets’ crease. Galchenyuk put the puck past Connor Hellebuyck and into what he thought was the net. Referee Kevin Pollock thought differently, indicating the puck hit the post.
But just moments later, the in-arena horn at Scotiabank Arena sounded, indicating a stoppage in play for the officials to review the play. Sure enough, upon review it was determined that the puck had entered the net at the 3:41 mark, giving Galchenyuk his third of the season.
It didn’t take long for the Jets to respond, however. Despite being assessed back-to-back minor penalties, Winnipeg was able to kill off an extended five-on-three disadvantage, giving the team a heavy boost of momentum. Shortly thereafter, the Jets were granted a man advantage of their own, with Pierre-Luc Dubois drawing a crosschecking minor on former Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian.
With Bogo in the box, Nikolaj Ehlers required just seven seconds of the power play to rip his 19th of the season past Campbell low, glove side. Then just 27 seconds later, Neal Pionk sprung Mark Scheifele on a two-on-one with Kyle Connor up ice. The former found the latter for his team-leading 20th marker of the season, as the speedy winger also beat Campbell low, glove side.
With goals on back-to-back shots, Winnipeg kept the hot streak alive, this time seeing Scheifele finish off a beautiful move, going backhand after selling a shot on a long breakaway for his 17th marker. Scoring their third goal on their third shot in just 3:09, the Jets chased Campbell from the net, with newcomer David Rittich entering for the remainder of the game.
Finishing the period up 3-1 on three-straight shots in the second-half of the frame, Winnipeg held both a two-goal lead as well as a two-shot lead, registering nine shots through 20 minutes.
The Leafs scored the game’s next goal, on a great setup pass from the corner of the ice by veteran forward Jason Spezza. Finding captain John Tavares on a net drive, Spezza’s pass was immediately placed into the net, past Hellebuyck’s outstretched glove. Tavares’ 14th of the season came 6:47 into the period and marked the only goal of the frame. Despite the bounce back from Toronto, Winnipeg remained atop the shot chart 19-18 through 40 minutes.
Starting the third period being outshot 5-0, Ehlers and the Jets made Rittich and the Leafs pay on the team’s first shot of the frame. On a play started back in the Jets’ defensive zone, Ehlers poked the puck off Mitch Marner’s stick, beat the Toronto winger down the ice, picked his pocket once again and then drove the net and beat Rittich five-hole, who immediately regretted his decision to attempt to poke-checking the speedy Ehlers.
The goal was Ehlers’ 20th of the season for his share of the team lead. It also just so happened to come on Winnipeg’s first shot of the period.
“I got a stick on it in our zone and I thought that I could skate him up and try to create a loose puck somehow, and it worked out,” Ehlers said of the play leading up to his goal. “I just tried to skate as hard as I could and get my stick on that puck. It created a good bounce for me going towards the net… I play with a pretty long stick, so that worked out for me today.”
But not allowing Ehlers to stay stride for stride with him, Kyle Connor scored his 21st of the season and his 10th power play goal of the season on an empty net with 36 seconds left in the game, sealing the deal on a 5-2 win.
Hellebuyck stopped 31 Toronto’s 33 shots on the night, while seeing his record improve to 21-11-3 with the win on Thursday. His counterparts Jack Campbell and David Rittich combined to turned aside just 19 of Winnipeg’s 23 shots in the loss. With the victory, Winnipeg’s record now sits at 27-14-3 through 44 games, giving the team 57 points and a .648 points percentage. The Jets are now just three points back of Toronto for first place.
Thursday marked the beginning of a difficult seven-game stretch in which the Jets face-off solely against the Leafs and Oilers. The game did also mark the ending of a 22-game span of which Winnipeg has played 17 games on the road.
“If we can continue the way we’re playing now, there are some things that need to be fixed,” Ehlers added. “You can’t play a perfect game, but we’re trying to get it as close to that as possible. So we’re playing the right way, we’re working hard, and we’re jumping in for each other and playing the right way, so it’s exciting.”
Next up for the Jets is the start of a six-game homestand. Facing off against Edmonton on Saturday, Winnipeg will then deal with the Leafs again for three-straight games, before playing the Oilers another two times at home. Saturday’s game will be available to view on Sportsnet and CBC at 9:00 PM central.
“First of all, it will be nice to sleep in our own beds, that’s for sure,” Scheifele said. “It will be nice to get home. We’re going to have a three-day break after we play Edmonton on Saturday. It will be nice to get some rest, get into your own bed, get into a little bit of a routine. Especially this season, you feel like you’re lying in a hotel room pretty much all day. It’s just a matter of getting our rest, and when we come to the rink, come with a purpose and that’s what we need to do, we know, coming forward.”