For the first time in quite some time, fans at Canada Life Centre were treated to a highly-competitive, enjoyable hockey experience. And yes, it was the Winnipeg Jets playing on Tuesday night, not the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
It wasn’t a victory by the home team, but they sure came close, falling 6-5 to the visiting Los Angeles Kings by way of a shootout.
It was Winnipeg’s sixth loss in its last seven games and fourth-straight, overall. The team did get a single point, but fell into eighth-place overall in the Western Conference.
“The compete was there,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said post-game. “A couple blown assignments, a couple flukey breaks, it goes right to the hottest player in the game. We competed hard tonight, we did.”
It was quite the show. A six-goal second period, an overtime period, a shootout, a four-goal night, two four-point nights and too many career milestones to list highlighted some of the action in what ended up being an 11-goal game.
With only two shots on net for the home team through 13 minutes, it appeared as though things were heading off the rails once again at Canada Life Centre. Having lost the first two matchups of their three-game homestand by a combined 9-1 score, another goose egg may have sent the city into absolute bedlam.
Things turned around real quick as defenceman Josh Morrissey scored back-to-back strikes to end the frame up 2-0. The first was garbage, loose-puck jam-job, while his second was an absolute howitzer from the point – his 13th of the season, which set a new career high.
Blake Wheeler picked up his 600th career assist on the play, moving him into 10th place all-time in terms of assists by American born players. He trails only Patrick Kane on the active player list.
Fans are cheering after the first period of play at @CanadaLifeCtr.
It has been a while.
Winnipeg is still being outshot (11-7) through 20, but hold a 2-0 lead on two goals from Josh Morrissey.
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) March 1, 2023
But it was three-straight goals from Kings’ captain Anze Kopitar that made it a game, with the final being a perfect redirection off yet another offensive zone face-off win for Los Angeles. Kyle Connor responded for Winnipeg on what appeared to be an impossible angle, before Kevin Stenlund took over on the offensive side of things.
He scored his first of the game on a power move from out behind Kings’ tendy Pheonix Copley, before getting a shortie off a great setup pass from Adam Lowry on a two-on-one up ice.
“Yeah, obviously, everyone can score and it’s great when the bottom-6 can contribute that way, too,” Stenlund reflected. “So, it’s obviously we want everyone to contribute in their own way.”
After earlier claiming that he may be the missing piece in Jets nation, newcomer Nino Niederreiter gave his new fanbase something to cheer about in a spirited bout following a heavy check on Sean Durzi. The fight sparked the shorthanded goal by Stenlund on a Niederreiter checking to the head penalty.
“I thought he was great, physical, obviously,” Morrissey said of Niederreiter. “Tough call on that one. The guy’s a lot smaller than him and kind of leaned down.”
“He’s a big, physical guy who makes a lot of little plays. He competes hard so he brings all those intangibles that you want this time of year. We’ve seen it enough when he was in the Central with Minnesota and Nashville. That’s the kind of player he is. He’s just going to get more comfortable and I thought he was great.”
#NHLJets welcome Nino Niederreiter to Winnipeg, while also announcing his goal song is…
Disco Inferno! pic.twitter.com/4xLo9gGO4L
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) March 1, 2023
Kopitar opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the game less than two minutes into the third period, sparking what was yet another strong comeback from the visitors.
“He’s been so consistent for so long, in all three zones he’s playing his ass off and tonight it showed with all the work he does, and he can score four as well,” Kopitar’s linemate Adrian Kempe said. “It’s fun to play with and hopefully I’ll keep playing with him.”
But with 4:06 to go, Gabe Vilardi picked up the puck in the Jets’ end, avoided a tripped up Dylan Samberg, cut to the Winnipeg net and beat Connor Hellebuyck high short-side, knotting the game at fives and sending it to overtime.
A back-and-forth five-minute frame resulted in a number of quality chances on both sides of the puck, but no one could find a winner.
The game needed a shootout.
A crafty move by Vilardi ended with the puck rattling off the crossbar, before Connor was denied by Copley. Kempe quickly walked in and potted the winner through Hellebuyck’s legs, with Wheeler unable to respond on his shootout try, as the Jets fell 6-5.
Tuesday wasn’t much for goaltending stats, as both netminders gave up a number of softies. Hellebuyck finished the night with 32 saves on 37 shots, while Copley picked up 26 stops on 31 Jets shots.
Next up for Winnipeg is a home-and-home mini series with the Edmonton Oilers beginning on Friday night in Alberta. The teams will then regroup for a battle at Canada Life Centre the following evening. Friday’s game can be viewed live on TSN at 8:00 PM central, while Saturday’s contest will be aired on CBC at 6:00 PM.
“We’ve got to build on it,” Bowness said of his team’s performance. “We’ve got a tough weekend with Edmonton back-to-back but, if we play as hard as we did tonight, then we’ll be OK.”