Friday was a good day for the Winnipeg Jets.
With head coach Rick Bowness announcing the return of four regulars to the lineup following lengthy stays on the club’s injured reserve, the club prepared for a heavy inter-conference battle with the always powerful Tampa Bay Lightning.
Coming off a lopsided loss to Minnesota a couple nights prior, the Bolts were out for some revenge against a hot Jets team that had won each of its last three games.
But it just wasn’t in the cards for the visitors on Friday, as Tampa scored early, but not enough, as the Jets mounted a resilient comeback, going goal-for-goal with the back-to-back Cup champs en route to the team’s fourth-straight victory.
“It was a big team win for us,” Pierre-Luc Dubois said post-game. “The penalty kill did a fantastic job in killing all those penalties. This game we could look at it, and it could be a game we remember at the end of the season for us.”
Dubois scored twice for the Jets, while Josh Morrisey had three assists on the night, as Connor Hellebuyck out-duelled Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 20th win of the season, coming in 4-2 fashion at Canada Life Centre.
And to top things off, it was also head coach Rick Bowness’ 2,600th career game on the bench – a growing NHL record.
The opening frame began rather quickly but slowed to an absolute crawl as the period wore on. Fans that showed up late were unable to get to their seats until midway through at earliest as ushers held them to the foyer until the first whistle – which came at 10:24. But following the back-and-forth first half, linesmen and referees couldn’t hit their whistles enough, it seemed.
Moments after Connor Hellebuyck robbed a wide-open Steven Stamkos with a sprawling pad save, he allowed the Bolts on the board on a play setup from Stamkos and finished by Anthony Cirelli. Coming with 8:12 remaining, the Lightning’s lead lasted until the final minute of the frame.
Recently announced NHL all-star selection Josh Morrissey got things going in the offensive zone, where he dished the puck to Kyle Connor, who turned off the boards and put a heavy wrist shot on net. Pierre-Luc Dubois managed to get a piece of it before the puck found its way through Andrei Vasilevskiy, knotting the game at ones with 38 seconds left in the period.
Tampa wasted little time restoring its lead, however, with Nikita Kucherov putting his 14th of the season through Hellebuyck and a heavy screen just 95 seconds into the middle stanza. The puck very well may have deflected off defenceman Dylan Samberg before it found its way into the net.
With both Cal Foote and Nick Paul in the box for the Bolts, Winnipeg wasted little time capitalizing on the ensuing two-man advantage. Dubois found his second of the game, redirecting yet another shot, this time, Morrissey’s. After falling behind 12-4 on the shot chart through 20 minutes, the Jets responded with nine pucks on net to narrow the gap to four shots, trailing the Lightning 17-13 after two periods of work.
“Yeah, it’s one of those where you see it happening, you see it coming, and you lose it for a second but you put your stick there and hope it hits,” Dubois said of Morrissey’s shot. “That one I tried. KC’s I was scared it was gonna hit me in the face and it just hit my shaft. That was a little bit different.”
Winnipeg then capitalized on a second five-on-three advantage as Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov put the puck over the glass just seconds into what was already a Jets power play. Winnipeg needed 58 seconds of five-on-three time for Kyle Connor to get his 17th of the year, blasting home a one-timer strike from Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey. The helper was Morrissey’s third of the game.
39 assists in 39 games for NHL All-Star Josh Morrissey.
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) January 7, 2023
Mark Scheifele and Anthony Cirelli actually dropped the mitts in what was an exciting frame, as the latter stepped up following a heavy check by Scheifele on Haydn Fleury. There weren’t many of punches thrown, but Scheifele did manage to hog tie Cirelli and throw him to the ice, following a bit of a bad-blood shift.
“Again, the intensity is there,” coach Bowness said. “Mark’s heart is in the right place. He’s been working hard all year. You’re asking your players to play with energy and passion and emotion, then those things are going to happen. Cirelli is the same way. He’s a hard-nosed kid, he plays the game hard as he can. It’s just two guys playing the game with a lot of passion and that stuff happens. So, good for Mark.”
“It’s a tough league,” Connor reflected. “A close game like that, everybody gets competitive and everybody wants to win. That’s what it comes down to.”
Dylan DeMelo made a sensational goal-line stop on a puck Connor Hellebuyck got just enough on, turning aside Steven Stamkos point blank on a late-period PLD penalty.
“That usually helps. Yeah,” Bowness added. “Funny, at least they knew where it was. That thing popped up into the air and no one really knew where it was but those two guys did. That’s a timely save from those two guys.”
With 1:52 to go, Kyle Connor took his second penalty of the game (and third of the year) setting up a lengthy six-on-four for the Lightning. But it was Winnipeg that capitalized, as Morgan Barron beat his man up the ice, collected a loose puck and wrapped the disc into the empty net, sealing it for the Jets, just 26 seconds into the kill.
“That was a hell of a play,” Connor said. “I don’t think they realized he was jumping there. Two Tampa players looked the other way and next thing you know, Bares has the puck. Good on him to take it to the net and pretty good finish there. That was a pretty good finish for us.”
Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 26 shots on the night, while Andrei Vasilevskiy gave up three goals on 19 Jets shots.
The Jets next host Vancouver on Sunday afternoon in a 2:00 PM matinee tilt with a team that had just popped into town three home games prior. The game will be the final of three-straight at home for Winnipeg, before the club hits the road for three-straight. Sunday’s game can be viewed live on TSN.