The Winnipeg Jets were down 4-1 win about nine minutes to play on Sunday night, It appeared the Edmonton Oilers were about to cut the Jets lead in the North Division semifinal to 2-1.
Then came a cheap shot, an overtime goal, two goals in 16 seconds and an overtime winner and suddenly the Jets had turned an apparent 4-1 loss into a remarkable 5-4 overtime victory.
It might have been the greatest hockey game ever played at Bell MTS Place.
“It’s just too damn bad our fans weren’t in the building because that would have been something,” Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler said post-game.
“Coming back from three goals, it was exciting for our group, no doubt,” Wheeler added. “But I think the biggest takeaway is you need to win another game. Definitely a thrilling game, definitely an exciting game but we’ve got to start focusing on tomorrow pretty quick here.”
Nikolaj Ehlers returned from injury, played his first game of the playoffs and scored two goals, including the winner. Jets D-man Josh Morrissey scored the tying goal and added an assist. Connor Hellebuyck made 44 saves. It was the perfect recipe for a thrilling victory that gave the Jets a 3-0 series lead.
“That’s our team. I mean, we don’t give up,” Ehlers said. “That’s what’s so fun playing on this team and after the OT winner you can see the joy. I mean, it’s a wonder no one got injured at the end there during the celebration. But it’s awesome. And it’s, like I said, the boys don’t give up. We showed a battle at the end and it paid off.”
The first period was all Edmonton. In fact, the Jets came out so flat-footed, it appeared as if the rink was tilted from south down to north. It was painfully obvious that the Oilers were a desperate team and the Jets felt as if they could just go through the motions.
Edmonton’s dominance manifested itself at 6:33 of the opening period when Leon Draisaitl picked up a loose puck in front made a quick deke to the left of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck and slipped the puck into a wide open net. Slater Koekoek and Connor McDavid picked up the assists and Edmonton was already in complete control of the hockey game.
About that time the Jets got into penalty trouble. With 46 seconds remaining in a hooking penalty to Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nate Thompson took a high-sticking penalty. A few seconds later, with a two-man advantage, Draisaitl scored his second of the night from Kailer Yamamoto and McDavid at 9:10 and this one was all but over. The snoozing Jets and their 2-0 series advantage was going to be cut in half because obviously they were prepared for a 7 p.m. puck drop, not one at 6:30. With nine minutes to go in the period, the shots were Edmonton 13, Winnipeg 2.
By the end of the period, the Oilers outshot the Jets 17-7, outscored them 2-0 and had a goal on two power plays to the Jets zero goals on zero power plays.
The second period was just more of the same. Edmonton dominated and even when the Jets had the power play, they simply didn’t get any shots on goal. The closest they came was a blistering drive from Blake Wheeler that hit the cross-bar. The Jets did not take their 10th shot on goal in the game until there was seven minutes left to play in the second period.
On the upside, the return of Nikolaj Ehlers paid off. After a holding penalty was called against Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse, the Jets second power play unit got the call and after two solid scoring chances off the stick of Dubois, Ehlers ripped a wrist shot past Smith to cut the Oilers lead to 2-1 at 17:13.
However, just when it appeared as if the Jets might mount a comeback, Winnipeg’s top line gave the puck away to McDavid in the Edmonton zone and he led a rush that resulted in a goal by Zach Kassian just a minute and four seconds after Ehlers’ tally. Draisaitl and McDavid drew the assists and the teams went to the second intermission with Edmonton ahead 3-1.
After 40 minutes, Edmonton had outshot Winnipeg 30-18, McDavid and Draisaitl each had three points and all the good things Winnipeg had done in Edmonton were now long forgotten. For stats-are-for-losers lovers, the Jets had outhit Edmonton 37-23 and had won 69 per cent of the face-offs, but none of that mattered a whit.
Edmonton appeared to end it early in the third when Jujhar Khaira tipped home a point shot from Adam Larsson at 4:42 to make it 4-1.
And then the proverbial plate of mashed potatoes hit the metaphorical fan.
The Jets scored on a power play of their own at 11:41 when Mathieu Perreault banged a loose puck past Smith as Andrew Copp and Dubois, who might have played his best game since arriving in Winnipeg, picked up the assists. The second power play unit was easily the top power play unit on this night.
Interestingly, the penalty that set up the goal, and ultimately changed the arc of the game and the series, came when Josh Archibald hit Jets D-man Logan Stanley with a dirty low bridge. It was a clear intent to injure and it cost the Oilers dearly.
“Our power play stepped up huge,” Wheeler said. “That’s obviously what got us kick-started. Those guys have been so awesome for us most of the year. They scored two big goals for us tonight, none bigger than Matty Perreault’s to get us back in the game.”
The Jets made it 4-3 when Wheeler flipped home a rebound at 14:28. Josh Morrissey and Mark Scheifele drew the assists and suddenly we had a hockey game.
Then, 16 seconds later, Morrissey took a perfect pass from Lowry, deked a defence man and ripped a wrist shot past a startled Smith to tie the game.
It would have been bedlam at BellMTS Place if fans were actually allowed in the building. As it was, homes, apartments, cabins and RVs all over Manitoba must have been shaking as the outplayed Jets had battled all the way back from a 4-1 deficit to send the game into overtime. Nobody, not even the players on the Jets bench, were thinking OT with nine minutes to play.
After 60 minutes, Edmonton had outshot Winnipeg 41-30, although Winnipeg had the upper hand, 12-11, in the third period. The Jets had outhit the Oilers 43-30 and won 65 per cent of the face-offs. The Oilers were one-for-three on the power play while the Jets were two-for-three.
When overtime arrived, the Jets were a different team. They forced the play and while Edmonton had some chances, Hellebuyck was rock solid.
Then, at 9:13, Stastny wins a face-off in the Oilers zone, gets the puck back to Ehlers who got it on it’s side and fired a hard knuckle-puck over Smith’s glove. Pandemonium ensued.
Ehlers, who scored his second of the night in his first game of this year’s playoffs, skated down the ice, and stopped right between the Oilers bench and exit gate to hold his celebration. It was one of the greatest moments in Jets 2.0 history, especially considering it was the first playoff overtime goal in Winnipeg since Dave Ellett in 1990.
“I mean, you always dream of scoring these kinds of goals,” he said. “But, for me, tonight, it was a matter of getting out there, play simple and use my speed as much as possible. But you know, this was a team effort. A full, I don’t know how many minutes we played, but a full 70-plus good effort. Great game and it’s exciting.”
The Oilers outshot the Jets 48-37, but the Jets outshot Edmonton 7-5 in OT. The Jets had 47 hits to Edmonton’s 32 and the Jets won 63 per cent of the face-offs. No face-off was bigger than Stastny’s win in the Oilers zone in overtime, however.
Game 4 in the series goes Monday night at 8:45 p.m. CDT at Bell MTS Place. The game will be televised on Sportsnet and CBC.