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Connor’s Hat Trick Leads Jets Past Last-Place Ducks

Photos by Scott Stroh and James Carey Lauder

Connor’s Hat Trick Leads Jets Past Last-Place Ducks

Thursday night was a special one in Winnipeg, but you wouldn’t know it by the home team’s play in the opening period. Luckily, the Jets woke up, but as has been the case at times here in this cold month of November, it just took a little bit to get the engine heated.

But when it fired up, that engine sure did roar.

Kyle Connor scored all three goals for the Jets, while Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 29 shots, as Winnipeg narrowly fended off the Ducks by way of a 3-2 score at Canada Life Centre.

On the night the Jets emblazoned legends Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen in the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame history forever, the long-time NHL homes of the Finnish Flash met on the ice as the Jets hosted the NHL-worst Anaheim Ducks.

Messages from fellow Jets alumni Jim Kyte, Paul MacLean, Randy Gilhen, Dave Ellett, Kris King and Randy Carlyle were played on the jumbotron, while an assortment of fellow teammates joined the two Finns on the ice for the pre-game ceremony and puck drop.

“The organization did a great job tonight,” head coach Rick Bowness said. “It was first-class. This organization does everything right, everything well. It’s a first-class operation and it showed tonight. I wish I had coached Teemu a little longer but we sent him back to Finland one year after training camp. I worked with Teppo here and in Phoenix. You couldn’t work with a finer gentleman and a better hockey player than Teppo. I was very happy for them, very proud of the way the organization handled it. It was first class tonight, as it should be with those two great individuals.”

And then the Jets came out with lead in their skates for the opening 20 minutes. Thursday’s game was the third occasion to which Winnipeg began a game after a three-day layover between opponents. Finding their legs after a significant stretch away from game action certainly appeared to set the team back half a stride, which was noticeable, even against the 32nd ranked Ducks.

Anaheim actually opened the scoring, with the red-hot Troy Terry collecting his seventh of the season. With the Ducks playing with an extra skater on a delayed Pionk interference call, Terry’s long range wrist shot somehow found its way through a Mason McTavish screen and into the net behind Connor Hellebuyck. The visitors goal at 10:17 of the opening period was the only tally by either team in the first 20 minutes of the game.

But the home club woke up in the second period. It took a couple late-period power plays but the Jets heavily outshot the Ducks in the middle stanza after falling behind 12-10 early. Putting a whopping 15 shots, Winnipeg managed to tie the game and have a fight, all while pulling ahead 25-23 in the shot department.

Kyle Connor found his third goal of the season, as he fired home a Pierre-Luc Dubois rebound from tight in the slot. With former Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov watching on from the penalty box, Josh Morrissey picked up his 15th assist of the season (in game No. 15), while PLD collected the other helper on Connor’s game-tying strike.

Then with just 5:45 remaining, on Winnipeg’s 31st shot of the game, Kyle Connor found his second of the game, hammering home a one-timer from a perfect pass to the net front from Sam Gagner. Giving fans a second chance to hear Luke Combs’ ‘1-2 Many’ he skated off the ice now owning four goals on the season.

“Guys have bought into the system,” Mark Scheifele said. “We’ve played fast. We know when we make mistakes and we try not to duplicate them. Tonight was a prime example of it. Obviously there were mistakes made but we have guys battling back and we just stuck with it.”

But just 28 seconds later Trevor Zegras quickly brought the crowd to a grinding halt. Bouncing right back following what appeared to be the dagger, Zegras scored his eighth of the season on a beautiful shot following a setup pass from Adam Henrique. Cutting hard to the net, he faked Hellebuyck before putting the puck high blocker side and erupting into a massive celebration.

Not to be outdone, Connor had one more in him.

This time it was a beauty of a setup pass from Mark Scheifele at 59:07 of the game that gave Connor a hat trick and his fifth goal of the season, finally putting the Jets over the top, finishing off Anaheim 3-2.

“Yeah, I was kind of pissed off when I scored the third goal,” Connor laughed. “Me and Wheels were talking about if whoever scores first is gonna throw the glove up and so his celly. But I didn’t do it. But it’s cool to have them in the building. I know there was an extra buzz coming into it. We had the gala last night and a bunch of cool stories about those two and it felt good to get a win for those guys, definitely.”

For Zegras, who had thought he’d sent the game to overtime just minutes later, it wasn’t as fun of an experience.

“It’s very disappointing, very disappointing,” he said. “Just tired of losing games like that. We were right in it the whole way. There’s such a fine line between winning and losing in this league. It feels like we’ve been on the wrong end of so many of these games. I feel for everybody. It sucks … We played 59 good minutes. I make a bad play on the wall and miss my guy going to the front of the net and the game’s over, I would say it’s kind of on me. There were some good things, some bad things. It\s getting old, for sure.”

Connor Hellebuyck stopped 29 of Anaheim’s 31 shots, picking up his eighth win of the season, while seeing his record improve to 8-3-1 on the year. John Gibson turned aside 30 shots for the Ducks, while falling to 3-9-1. The Jets are now 10-4-1 on the season and next take on Sidney Crosby and the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins from Canada Life Centre this Saturday evening. Puck drop is set for 6:00 PM central time, while the game can be viewed live on CBC/City TV.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com or on Twitter at @GameOnHockey.

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