The Winnipeg Jets already knew they were playoff bound a couple weeks ago. The biggest question remaining, however, was of who their opponent would be in the opening round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On Tuesday evening, the team took it into its own hands to solve the matter. With a 5-0 shutout victory in the second matchup of a two-game series with the visiting Vancouver Canucks, the Jets ensured a third-place finish within the all-Canadian North Division. Thus, the team will face off against the Edmonton Oilers in the first round.
Connor Hellebuyck earned his fourth shutout of the season, Blake Wheeler picked up his 10th career four-point game, while Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor also recorded multi-point nights, helping Winnipeg to just its second win its last 10 games.
It was also a milestone night for forward Paul Stastny, who skated in his 1,000th career game. He was honoured alongside his wife and two kids prior to puck drop, with the team presenting him with a custom piece of art and a silver stick in recognition of his noteworthy achievement.
“Stas is the type of guy that goes about his business,” captain Blake Wheeler said post-game. “He doesn’t say a whole lot, doesn’t command the spotlight or a whole lot of attention. His teammates respect the hell out of him for it. It was a night that was kind of a galvanizing sort of moment for our team. We wanted to have a good night for him. We wanted it to be a memorable night for him. His wife and kids were in the building. This is something that he’s always going to remember. We were pumped that we were able to play a good game as team and give him some good memories.”
The Jets opened the scoring on Tuesday and didn’t look back. After going pointless in eight-straight games, Kyle Connor found his second goal in two games on Tuesday. A perfect stretch pass from Dylan DeMelo was redirected beautifully by captain Blake Wheeler on a touch play in the neutral zone. Connor collected the puck and walked in on Braden Holtby, beating the veteran netminder five-hole for the 1-0 lead just 7:48 into the game.
Up 1-0 through 20 minutes, Winnipeg also held an 11-6 shot lead heading into the middle stanza, where the team once again struck early.
Off a blocked Neal Pionk point shot, Wheeler collected the redirection and stampeded directly to the Canucks’ net. Putting a nifty move on Holtby, the big winger collected his 14th of the season just 2:05 into the frame.
Then, just six minutes later, defenceman Jordie Benn set up the captain for a one-timer at the point which flew off Wheeler’s stick. Centreman Mark Scheifele managed to get his stick on the puck and cause it to redirect high past Holtby, increasing Winnipeg’s lead to three just midway through the game. With his secondary assist on the goal, Benn recorded his first point as a member of the Jets.
Through 40 minutes, the Jets maintained a 3-0 lead while holding a slight 20-17 shot advantage.
Winnipeg opened the floodgates in the third period, putting home another two goals off the sticks of Blake Wheeler and Mason Appleton just 1:10 apart. Wheeler’s second of the game came as a result of a pretty passing play on a two-on-one with Kyle Connor.
“The Wheeler goal, pass to Kyle Connor back to Wheeler, that’s special stuff,” coach Paul Maurice said. “That comes out occasionally but it can’t be what you rely on. I thought that our offensive zone play, with the exception of about 10 minutes of the second period, was right on, exactly what we needed.”
Then just a minute later, Mathieu Perreault fed Appleton, who put his 11th of the season past Holtby, sealing the deal for the Jets on the 5-0 victory.
“Yeah, I feel bad for Holtby tonight,” Canucks head coach Travis Green said. “We were in our zone a lot of times tonight. We weren’t good in any areas of there game, and when you’re not good in any areas you’re going to give up a lot of chances.”
Hellebuyck turned aside all 24 of Vancouver’s shots on the night, while seeing his record improve to 22-17-3 with the victory on Tuesday. His counterpart Braden Holtby stopped 31 of Winnipeg’s 36 shots, who saw his record fall to 7-9-2 on the season. With the win, Winnipeg’s record now sits at 29-23-3 through 55 of 56 games, giving the team 61 points on the year.
“I’ve liked my game,” Hellebuyck said. “I’ve liked my game for a while. I thought it’s been getting better and better and when the team puts that performance in front of me, we can grow this as a group and this is the confidence we need going into the playoffs. We can’t going into the playoffs losing. It never works. We played a really good game tonight and I’m really excited to see how we carry this forward.”
The Jets will now wait until Friday evening where they conclude the regular season against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs at home. The final game of the season features a 7:00 PM central puck drop from Bell MTS Place. It will be the final TSN broadcast of the season before the playoffs begin next week, exclusively on CBC and Sportsnet.