It was a near-perfect hockey game. But the same could be argued for Monday’s battle with Ottawa, oh and that other game a week ago, and that game before the unlucky bounce, and that other one where there was the bad penalty… you get it.
Hockey is an imperfect sport. But Jets seemingly needed to play a perfect game in order to snap the club’s longest losing streak since returning to Manitoba back in 2011. Yes, it has been 10 years. No, the streak wasn’t 10 years, but there has been 10 years of hopeful Jets fans basking in the glory of the highest level of hockey being played on the nightly in downtown Winnipeg.
Sure, this season and the last have been ‘different’ to say the least. With an extended pause midway through the 2019-20 regular season, the Jets returned for the ‘play-in round’ of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, only able to muster up one victory in a five-game set with the Calgary Flames, which certainly left a bitter taste in the mouths of most Manitobans.
Playing without Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine for the better part of that series, Winnipeg looked lackadaisical at best. An early 2021 trade that sent Laine to Columbus – alongside fellow disgruntled forward Jack Roslovic – brought in centreman Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has still yet to fully find his groove.
Adding to the mess is the constant rotation of players making up the Jets’ blueline. With trade deadline acquisition Jordie Benn coming in and out of the lineup more frequently than Tom Wilson’s name appearing on the penalty sheet on any given night, Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice has been under high levels of scrutiny for opting to favour a veteran-heavy defence corps on any given night.
Despite that, and his team’s record with youngster Ville Heinola in the lineup, the experienced bench boss called Winnipeg’s 2019 first round selection back to the action in hopes of helping snap the seven-game losing streak on Wednesday evening. It worked.
Skating alongside Dylan Demelo, Heinola was able to help the Jets play that highly-coveted near-perfect road game. Closing out their road schedule with a victory and a 17-10-1 record on the year, Heinola and the Jets got the job done by way of a 4-0 shutout over those same Calgary Flames that had caused the team issues in last year’s playoff series.
“It’s nice to put the nail in the coffin seeing as they sent us home from the bubble,” Adam Lowry said following his two-goal performance on Wednesday. “It’s always nice to return the favour. During the slide there were moments where you thought is this thing ever going to end. But we’re glad that’s behind us now and looking forward to continuing to get better and make it to the playoffs.”
Also scoring twice for Winnipeg was captain Blake Wheeler, who actually earned career point No. 800 with his second tally of the game. Through 977 career games, the 34-year-old has 277 goals and 523 assists. All but 110 of Wheeler’s points came as a member of the Jets/Thrashers franchise.
“It doesn’t mean anything, to be honest with you,” Wheeler said when asked about his milestone goal. “This night belongs to our team and the fact that we’re going back to the playoffs. That’s all I play for, especially this part of my career is just having opportunities to achieve the ultimate goal. So that’s what makes this night special.”
Interestingly enough, Wheeler’s long-time linemate Mark Scheifele recorded the primary assist on the goal, which also gave Scheifele his 500th career point. The 28-year-old has skated in 571 games – all with the Jets – and has put up 199 goals and 301 assists. His next goal will also be a memorable one.
“Mark gets it,” Wheeler said candidly when asked who gets to take the puck following the combined milestone point.
Oddly, on the night in which the team finally snaps a horrendous losing streak, two of its leaders collected milestone points, while the team’s head coach also earned an important victory.
Coming over to Winnipeg in January of 2014, Maurice had coached 1,084 NHL contests with 460 total wins to his name. On Wednesday night, Maurice collected win No. 300 as head coach of the Jets. Now owning a 300-211-57 record with Winnipeg, Maurice will look to help guide the team to postseason success on what he hopes is the start of a long winning streak.
“It’s good,” he said post-game. “You get wrapped up in the moment sometimes, and when you have the stretch that we’ve just had, you lose sight of your starting point. We had a lot of things that we had to get right to get into the playoffs. We got off to a real good start and maintained that, and of course it’s well-documented what we just went through. But now you can take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the start to where we are now, and get to make the playoffs in a really difficult season for all teams. So we’ll get to enjoy that for a day.”