On Sunday afternoon, the Winnipeg Jets played a competitive hockey game for the first time in 13 days.
And what a game it was.
Beating the Vegas Golden Knights 5-4 on the fifth overtime winner of Kyle Connor’s young career, the Winnipeg overcame a late-game comeback by the home team, and collected its first win of 2022 in the first scheduled opportunity.
With an extended holiday break, the cancellation of some cross-border contests prior to Christmas and the postponement of home Canadian dates in late-December and early-January, the Jets were able to heal some wounds during their extended absence.
“These past couple of weeks, they’ve been challenging,” Connor said post-game. “It’s been tough to watch other teams play, and for us try to get as ready as you can.”
Despite some early signs of rust, the team shook off a slow opening frame and picked up a win against four Manitobans and Winnipeg’s former backup netminder Laurent Brossoit.
Michael Amadio opened the scoring for Vegas on Sunday afternoon, collecting his third of the season on a play that saw two Manitobans pick up assists. A long-range Zach Whitecloud point shot was deflected by Keegan Kolesar, which landed directly on the stick of Amadio, who hammered it into the wide-open net, giving the home team a 1-0 lead with 6:55 left to play in the frame.
The Golden Knights added another just three minutes later, with fellow Manitoban Brett Howden collecting an assist on the play. Breaking up a Jets’ rush up ice, Howden got the puck to Amadio, who went cross-ice to Evgenii Dadonov. The Russian forward banked it off Josh Morrissey’s skate and past Connor Hellebuyck.
After seeing just 2:19 of icetime in the first period, David Gustafsson left the game with a lower-body injury, ending his night very early once again.
Finishing the period down 2-0 on the scoreboard, the Jets also trailed heavily in the shot department, entering the middle stanza trailing 22-10.
“We knew that there was probably going to be some rust,” Jets’ head coach Dave Lowry said. “We felt we did the drills right in practice to prepare us.”
But coming out of the intermission on fire, Winnipeg scored two goals in a matter of 20 seconds, to tie up the game 2-2 just 2:39 into the frame. First it was Jansen Harkins who got his third of the season, before Kristian Reichel earned his first career NHL goal in just his second career game in the big leagues.
2:19 into the period, Harkins picked up the puck, walked in from the point, faked out Chandler Stephenson before cutting to the net and ripping a low wrist shot through his former backup netminder Laurent Brossoit. The Jets added another on their next shot, with Adam Lowry racing down the ice, picking up the puck behind the net and finding Reichel, who put his first career marker into the Vegas net.
Both Kyle Connor and Zach Whitecloud found the iron later in the period, with the Golden Knights remaining atop the shot chart 35-21, and the teams deadlocked at twos through 40 minutes of play.
The Jets once again struck early in the third. And as a matter of fact, Winnipeg got another two quick goals. First, it was Paul Stastny, who potted his seventh goal of the campaign, before Andrew Copp jammed a power play goal home for the two-goal lead.
Stastny capitalized on a nice redirection of a Josh Morrissey point shot just 2:28 into the period, before Winnipeg found itself on a power play following a Brett Howden trip. Kyle Connor walked in from the point, to which he fired a low wrist shot on net. Copp redirected the puck and then took two pokes at the loose puck before jamming his eighth of the season past Brossoit, giving Winnipeg its two-goal lead just 45 seconds into the man advantage.
But with 6:23 to go, Zach Whitecloud lobbed the puck into the air and it fooled Winnipeg D-man Dylan DeMelo. A hard-pressed Mattias Janmark stripped him of the puck and drove hard to the Jets’ net. He tucked the puck up high past Hellebuyck on his short side, bringing the home to within one goal of the Jets on his fifth goal of the season.
With Brossoit on the bench for an extra attacker, Stastny missed a glorious chance on the Vegas empty net, which proved costly just moments later. At 59:51 of the game, Shea Theodore fired a low slap shot on net, which Nicolas Roy redirected. The puck bounced off the skate of Janmark and skirted past a bewildered Hellebuyck, much to the delight of the home town crowd.
Leading 45-33 in shots through 60 minutes, the two teams hit the extra frame all knotted up at fours. A highly-entertaining overtime period saw chances at both ends of the ice. Connor got the last laugh with his 19th of the season on a rush towards the Golden Knights’ net. Putting a hard cut on his defender at centre ice, the 25-year-old walked into the Vegas zone and ripped wrister low blocker side for the game-winner at 2:39 of the overtime period.
“You try and do as many crosses, switches, trades — create as much confusion as you can out there,” Connor said of his overtime winner. “They kind of got tied up in the neutral zone, mixed up who had who and came in 2-on-1 and the d-man gave me a lot of space there and I wasn’t going to pass up that shot.”
Hellebuyck turned aside 42 of the 46 shots he faced, picking up his 12th win of the season, while his former understudy stopped 32 of 37 shots, taking just his third loss of the year.
Now sitting at 15-11-5, the Jets will look to continue their hot streak of two-straight victories as they visit the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday evening, before travelling to Colorado on Thursday for another Central Division matchup with the Avalanche. Both games feature 8:00 PM central starts and can be viewed live on TSN.