Paul Maurice and Canada Life Centre have long gone hand-in-hand.
Okay, the name ‘Canada Life Centre’ is rather new, but dating back to the ‘Bell MTS Place’ and ‘MTS Centre’ days, Maurice was the one to bring the Winnipeg Jets out of the wasteland and to the promised land filled with postseason success.
No, he didn’t quite deliver a Stanley Cup to the Manitoba faithful, but his long reign as the head coach of the Jets certainly came with excitement.
A classy move from the #NHLJets honouring the man that led the team to its first playoff berth in 2.0 history.
Paul Maurice was 315-229-62 as the bench boss in Winnipeg from 2014-2021. pic.twitter.com/DZPOc5QWyu
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) December 7, 2022
On Tuesday evening, Maurice – alongside long-time assistant Jamie Kompon – made his return to Winnipeg after resigning from his role in the early stages of last season. It was a night he’d rather forget – other than the nice ovation he received from Jets fans midway through the opening frame.
“I think we were down one at that point,” Maurice laughed. “It’s a special place and you could feel it. It’s more during the national anthems – one of my favourite things is the national anthems – it’s a great building, they’ve got a great fanbase here and they appreciate the game. That was probably the emotional part, and then puck dropped and away we went.”
“It’s a special place for Jamie and I, isn’t it?” Maurice continued. “We really appreciated it; it was good on the bench, it was good in the stands. That was very classy as they always are.”
Winnipeg’s stars came out to play in a game that saw two goals each from Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele, while Pierre-Luc Dubois registered three assists on the night. Despite all that, it was goaltender Connor Hellebuyck who led the way for the Jets, turning aside 39 shots for his 12th win of the season, a 5-2 victory over his old coach.
Winnipeg’s 16th win of the season catapulted the Jets over Dallas for first in the Central Division with a 16-7-1 record and a .688 points percentage through 24 games played.
The first period was certainly not one for the faint of heart. Three goals, four penalties and one video review later, the Jets walked away with a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes. Pierre-Luc Dubois picked up two helpers, while Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele each scored for Winnipeg, while Carter Verhaeghe got one back for the visitors.
Scheifele opened the scoring 6:40 in with his 14th of the season on a power play finisher, set up by Josh Morrissey – with his team-leading 22nd assist of the season – and Dubois, just 46 seconds into a Brandon Montour hooking minor.
Then, with Brenden Dillon in the box for interference, Verhaeghe got his 15th of the season in the early stages of the power play, knotting it back up at ones just over a minute later.
But Winnipeg needed just 17 seconds to get that lead back. This time it was Kyle Connor, who collected a pass from Dubois and put a seemingly innocent-looking shot on net, which snuck past Spencer Knight low blocker side.
“We bent, but we didn’t break,” coach Bowness said post-game. “We fought back and the third was good. We only gave up seven shots and a couple chances. We can live with that.”
Renowned pest Matthew Tkachuk brought the boo birds out with a disgusting act late in the frame. Following review, he was assessed a two-minute slashing call on a play to which he clearly speared Brenden Dillon in the groin, to which the seasoned Jets defenceman fell to the ice, writhing in pain. The ruling did not go over well with Jets fans.
Finishing atop scoreboard in both the goals (2-1) and shots department (14-7), Winnipeg had a tough time following up its act in the second period.
Outshot 25-8 in the middle stanza, the Jets somehow walked out with another two goals to their name. Hellebuyck turned every one of the shots he faced, while Scheifele and Connor added singles in the frame, bringing Winniepeg up to 4-1 through 40 minutes of play.
“They had like 26 shots in the second period, so that’s not ideal,” Scheifele said. “In the third period we responded well. We buckled down a little more, we got some chances, got it in their zone and made them play 200 feet. That led to a big win for us.”
Spencer Knight lasted just 1:43 of the period, as Connor’s second goal of the game sent him to the showers for the 10-million-dollar man, Sergei Bobrovsky.
“I think my type of mentality is if I’ve got a shot at it, obviously I’m pretty confident in my shot and think I can beat a lot of goaltenders,” Connor said. “But also you see the play that’s there, you’re not forcing it. It’s got to come to you. When you try to force it it’s usually not going to go your way. If it’s there, you’ll see it, take a shot. Vice versa if the pass is there, make a play.”
Bobrovsky faced just seven shots in the frame, but allowed Scheifele’s 15th of the year. The goal was the result of a brilliant passing play on a man advantage that saw Connor slide the puck to a moving Scheifele. He hammered it through the veteran netminder, adding insult to injury on the play that sent Josh Mahura to the penalty box for crushing Blake Wheeler into the boards headfirst.
Neal Pionk and Nick Cousins threw down in a spirited tilt midway through the period, bringing the energy in what appeared to be a momentary lapse of testosterone buildup.
Winnipeg trailed 32-22 on the shot chart entering the final frame but remained atop the Panthers 4-1 in what most expected to be a violent final 20 minutes.
Somehow, the Panthers avoided the rough stuff for the final 2o, and got back on the scoresheet.
Zac Dalpe made it 4-2 9:02 into the frame as he picked up a Chris Tierney pass and fired it past Hellebuyck high glove side, just moments after what appeared to be a missed tripping call on Mark Scheifele.
But Adam Lowry sealed it with an empty-netter with 3:01 left in the game, putting the finishing touches on a solid 5-2 home victory.
Hellebuyck finished the night with a tremendous 39 saves, while the tandem of Spencer Knight and Sergei Bobrovsky made a combined 27 stops on just 31 Winnipeg shots.
Friday’s game marked the conclusion of a four-game homestand, to which the team went 3-1-0. The Jets will now hit the road for a quick back-to-back against Central Division rivals St. Louis and Chicago on Thursday and Friday. Both games can be found live on TSN.