It took all of 653 days for Central Division rivals Winnipeg and Minnesota to renew hostilities. Just 467 miles down Interstate-94, the Jets’ closest geographically competitor hosted Winnipeg in the first Central Division game between the two teams since January of 2020.
And was it ever a game.
From weird bounces and hat tricks, to offside challenges and superman punches, the battle between the Jets and Wild pretty much had everything one could ask for in a good old fashioned Central Division classic.
With Jets captain Blake Wheeler recently testing positive for COVID-19 and being forced to miss 10 days in isolation, Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice opted to make some changes to its lineup for Tuesday’s road tilt. Choosing to go with 11 forwards and seven defenceman, Cole Perfetti was the odd-man out of the lineup, while Evgeny Svechnikov and Nathan Beaulieu drew back in.
Winnipeg’s new-look top line featuring Andrew Copp alongside Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor did not seem to have any difficulty finding chemistry, as Copp set Connor up for two first period strikes, including the game-opener just 3:48 in. Dishing a pass off to his fellow winger, Copp watched as Connor carried the puck up the ice and ripped a low wrist shot past Cam Talbot for his second of the season.
But just 53 seconds later, Mats Zuccarello evened things up for Minnesota, banking a rebound past Connor Hellebuyck and into the Jets’ net off a Mathew Dumba point shot. With just four shots apiece and two goals on the board, the Jets and Wild were nowhere near done.
Three-and-a-half minutes after Zuccarello’s tally, Connor found the net again, this time off a strange bounce in the offensive zone. An errant pass from Copp deflected off the skate of former Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov and skirted directly to the wide-open goal scorer. He hammered a one-timer off the bouncing puck and watched as it soared past Talbot high, glove side, restoring the Jets’ one-goal lead.
It was at that point that some pent-up frustration and testosterone entered the playing field. First, Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov was assessed an elbowing penalty after catching Logan Stanley up high. Failing to scoring on the ensuing power play, Winnipeg watched as Pierre-Luc Dubois retaliated on Kaprizov just minutes later with a slewfoot that sent him to the box.
Minnesota needed less than just one minute to strike with the man advantage. After allowing four goals on 10 penalties taken through the team’s opening two games, Winnipeg’s penalty kill gave up another, this time to Joel Eriksson Ek. The Minnesota forward collected the puck behind the Jets’ net and wrapped it around the cage, beating Hellebuyck to the far post for his first goal of the season.
Eriksson-Ek’s goal came with just 1:20 remaining, but the first period fireworks were far from over. On the faceoff following the goal, heavyweight customers Marcus Foligno and Brenden Dillon squared off in a lively fight. The main event began with a superman punch before the two exchanged haymakers and various glancing blows, before sprinting down their respective tunnels off of momentum highs.
With the game tied at twos through 20 minutes, Winnipeg trailed Minnesota by two shots, heading into the middle stanza down 13-11.
The Jets jumped ahead early in the second period, as defenceman Josh Morrissey found his first goal of the season while on the power play. Scoring Winnipeg’s first goal of the season while on the man advantage, Morrissey’s goal was a result of a strong blueline play by Neal Pionk, who got the puck to Paul Stastny down low. Stastny found Morrissey who deflected the puck off Kulikov and into the Wild net, once again retaking the lead.
But for the third time, Minny responded, this time it was bad one off another strange bounce. An Alex Goligoski long range backhanded was deflected by Zuccarello at the netfront. It bounced awkwardly and hit the boot of Morrissey, before squeezing through Hellebuyck and into the net.
Through 40 minutes, the Wild maintained a slight 24-21 shot lead, but the two teams remained deadlocked at threes.
A difficult delay-of-game penalty to Nick Bjugstad changed the overall complexion of the game for Minnesota, as the Wild forward was penalized early in the final frame after putting the puck over the glass. Taking just 36 seconds to score, Dubois collected a Connor pass and put a wrist shot through a screen for his second of the season, restoring Winnipeg’s lead in the process.
Andrew Copp then picked up his second goal of the year just moments later. Off a beautiful breakout play, Pionk found Scheifele, who quickly relayed the puck to Copp. The promoted winger raced up ice and put the puck off the crossbar and in, blocker side. But once again, the action was far from over.
With Pionk in the box for slashing at the 6:16 mark, Foligno buried a power play rebound, jamming the puck past Hellebuyck for his second goal of the season and bringing the Wild to within one.
But with 1:14 to go, Mark Scheifele put the puck into an empty net to seemingly seal the deal for the Jets. Minnesota head coach and Flin Flon product, Dean Evason immediately challenged the call for offside, which held up following video review. The goal was taken off the board and the Wild remained down by one.
Just seconds after play resumed, Eriksson Ek found his second of the game, batting a puck out of the air and bouncing it through the wickets of Hellebucyk, knotting the game back up at fives with just 57.7 seconds to go. Despite a significant number of Wild fans leaving the venue after the apparent 6-4 empty-netter, the team tied the game back up and sent it to overtime just moments later.
An eventful overtime period saw chances on both sides of the ice, but Minnesota ultimately got the last laugh, scoring the game-winner off of a three-on-one up ice. With Morrissey sent to the box for holding with just 2:12 left in the extra frame, Minnesota’s hottest goal scorer put the icing on the cake for the now 3-0-0 Wild. Kaprizov passed the puck across ice to Eriksson Ek, who tapped it past Hellebuyck for the game-winner and hat trick goal, sealing the deal on Winnipeg’s third loss of the season.
The overtime loss was Hellebuyck’s first of the season, dropping his record to 0-2-1 through the season-opening road trip. He turned aside just 38 of 44 shots in the loss. Winnipeg did manage to pick up one point in the game, despite putting just 30 pucks on Talbot.
Copp finished with a goal and two assists, Connor had two goals and one assist, while Pionk and Scheifele each had two helpers on the night.
The Jets will finally return to Manitoba on Thursday for their home opener at the newly-renamed Canada Life Centre, as the Anaheim Ducks migrate north. The game features a 7:00 PM central opening puck drop, and it can be viewed live on TSN.