Sometimes, all it takes to win a game is a well-timed response and a powerful celebration. Monday night was one of those such instances.
For the Winnipeg Jets’ first half MVP, Josh Morrissey, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. After seeing his team fall behind 2-0, despite out-playing division rival St. Louis in what felt like a ‘must-win’ game, the 2022-23 NHL All-Star put the team on his back, scoring twice in the third period en route to a 4-2 home victory.
“You can feel the tension in the rink, obviously fans are getting on us and at times rightfully so, for sure,” Morrissey said post-game. “But we have a great team, we have a great group of guys here and it just felt like we were playing a really good game tonight and not getting rewarded, so I tried to get a little emotion. I just kind of blacked out. We are a dangerous team at home when we’ve got the fans behind us.”
The win was Winnipeg’s first in four games and sent players and fans happily on their merry way as the Jets officially began their 11-day All-Star break and bye week.
Unable to find a goal in the game’s opening 40 minutes – despite piling on 31 shots on net – the Jets were on the brink of dropping four-straight games, while also facing the scary verdict of a second-straight shutout against.
But that all changed in the third period, thanks to Morrissey’s offensive explosion. He scored his ninth and 10th goals of the season, propelling the Jets to a narrow, come-from-behind victory in a game that St. Louis thought was well wrapped.
“It was awesome,” Mark Scheifele said of his teammate and offseason training partner. “Josh played frickin’ fantastic tonight. He always does, and he got rewarded. A few big goals by him, and he led us tonight, sure.”
After losing in the final stop of a five-game road trip in Nashville on Tuesday, the Jets then returned home for the final three games before the All-Star break. After playing eight of nine on the road, the thought of some home cooking certainly gave players and fans alike something exciting to look forward to.
But the expectation quickly faded with a 3-2 loss to Buffalo on Thursday, before the Philadelphia Flyers handed the Jets a 4-0 shutout on Saturday. A chorus of boos rained down on the players as they left the ice surface Saturday night, leading to what most expected to be the biggest rebound performance of the season in Monday’s battle with their Central Division rival Blues.
The home team did put up a boat load of shots, while seemingly controlling the pace of play. A scoreless first period ended with the teams deadlocked at 12 shots apiece, while the chances certainly leaned in Winnipeg’s favour.
Storming out to a 12-1 lead in shots in the opening 10 minutes of the second period, the Jets did everything but put the puck in the net. Registering a total 19 shots in the frame, Winnipeg pulled ahead 31-19 through 40 minutes, but it was the Jordan Binnington show that took centre stage.
“Yeah, Binnington was making some big saves,” Scheifele said. “I don’t think we tested him quite enough. He caught a lot of pucks and was able to kill a lot of plays. But that third period we were able to keep on coming in waves and waves and waves and good things happen when you keep going to the net.”
Turning aside Kyle Connor on a power play one-timer, before slamming the door on a Pierre-Luc Dubois rebound chance, the hot-and-cold netminder certainly found his groove in what has been an enjoyable playing environment over the past few years.
The Blues actually pulled ahead on a breakaway goal from Jake Neighbours. Binnington actually got the play started and earned a secondary assist, as he got the puck to defenceman Torey Krug, who found Neighbours breaking up-ice. Despite what appeared to be an offside play and an animated Neal Pionk, Jets coach Rick Bowness declined challenging the play, and the goal stood, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead through 40 minutes.
“I mean, in the play of chasing Neighbours and I thought it was offside,” Morrissey said. “I actually haven’t seen the video that closely, but I’m sure it must have been offside is we didn’t challenge. Sometimes it looks offside in the game and maybe it isn’t, so it is what it is.”
Neighbours, who had a much different view of the play, also thought it could have been waved off.
“Yeah, I was pretty nervous that they were going to challenge it,” he said. “But it must have been good. I saw Torey sitting back there with the puck – he’s so deceptive and always looking to stretch someone out – so I just tried to sneak in there behind the D and I just caught a good bounce.”
Winnipeg’s hopes of turning things around grew slimmer just 2:02 into the final stanza, as Neighbours picked up his second point of the game, assisting on Nikita Alexandrov’s third of the year. Neighbours got the puck to Josh Leivo, who slid it across ice to Alexandrov who beat Connor Hellebuyck low, blocker side, putting the visitors up 2-0.
But less than a minute later it was first half MVP Josh Morrissey who got the crowd right back into it with his ninth of the season. Busting up the left wing side, J-Mo fired a wrist shot cleanly past Binnington, bringing the Jets right back to within one goal. His celebration after the goal was quite possibly more memorable than the goal itself, as he flew up the entirety of the glass, throwing his arms up in the air repeatedly, as if to hint at more to come.
“It was kind of like, alright one went in, we were just waiting for that to happen, let’s go, let’s get on the gas and get them behind us and make it the tough arena that it is to play in,” Morrissey said of his celebration. “So, anyway, just emotion. Nice to get it, and the boys, like I said, I though we played well all game. We found a way to grind in the third.”
After combining for just one goal in the first 40 minutes, the teams managed to put up two in a span of just 40 seconds.
“To score 40 seconds after they got that second goal just turned the whole game around in our favour,” Bowness said. “That was a hell of a shot and a great rush. He’d been playing that way the whole game. Sometimes you step up and be the difference maker, and he was tonight.”
Then, keeping the momentum rolling, Mark Scheifele knotted the game at twos with his 30th goal of the season, capitalizing on a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play on a brutal Blues defensive zone turnover.
Just 21 seconds later, Morrissey found his second of the game, as he floated a simple wrist shot towards the net from the corner of the ice that rattled around and found its way through Binnington, keeping the already standing crowd up on its feet. With another potentially close call at the line, this time it was Blues’ Craig Berube who opted to hold off challenging for offside.
The goal stood and Winnipeg finally had a lead – its first in nearly a week (Tuesday against Nashville). As it went down, the goals by Winnipeg came 21 seconds apart and happened on its 36th and 37th shots of the game.
Mark Scheifele added his 31st of the season into the empty net with 23 seconds to go, finishing off the Blues. Moments prior, it was Connor Hellebuyck who attempted an empty-net goalie goal, only to have a stay-at-home St. Louis defender break the play up.
Hellebuyck stood on his head and turned aside the remaining shots in the game, finishing the night with 24 saves on 26 shots and improved his record to 24-15-1 Binnington made 34 saves on 37 shots and saw his record drop to 18-18-3 on the year.
The Jets will now rest a bit easier in Mexico – or wherever they so choose to spend their lengthy off-week – knowing they have once again found a way to score.