The Winnipeg Jets have done what most assumed would be unimaginable – picking up back-to-back wins in a two-game set with the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
After overcoming two multi-goal comebacks en route to a 5-4 overtime victory on Saturday night in Sunrise, Florida against Paul Maurice and the Panthers, the Jets travelled to Amalie Arena for a Sunday night tilt with the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Winnipeg was outshot for the second-straight night, but not quite as badly as the lopsided 48-27 differential it faced against the Panthers. This time it was just 35-22, with Connor Hellebuyck leading the way with 33 stops on the night.
The Jets managed the victory despite playing without Josh Morrissey on the blueline, as he suffered a lower-body injury the night before on a somewhat innocent-looking play. Jets’ head coach Rick Bowness did announce on Sunday afternoon that he hoped Morrissey would be able to go on Tuesday night when the Jets battle the Hurricanes in Carolina.
Although falling behind rather quickly on another goal off an opponent’s first shot of the game, the Jets rebounded nicely on Nate Schmidt’s seventh marker of the season – a long-range, seeing-eye writer from the blueline, on a setup pass from Logan Stanley. Schmidt’s goal brought the first period to a close with the teams deadlocked at ones.
Nino Niederreiter got his third as a Jet on an early second period power play, banking a rebound past Andrei Vasilevskiy off a missed shot by Mark Scheifele. Blake Wheeler picked up the secondary assist on Niederreiter’s 21st of the year.
Morgan Barron added a third Jets goal midway through the frame, as he finished off a drive up-ice from Mason Appleton. Carrying the puck into the Bolts’ zone, Appleton threw it to a net-driving Brenden Dillon, and the rebound squirted free to Barron, who also pumped his seventh of the year into the net.
With Dillon laying on top of Vasilevskiy, Tampa’s Jon Cooper opted to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but the original call stood, giving the Jets a two-goal lead. The Bolts were given a two-minute delay of game penalty for the unsuccessful challenge.
On that penalty kill, the sneaky Anthony Cirelli potted a shorthanded marker for the home team, bringing the Lightning to within a goal of the Jets, but unfortunately for the home crowd, it was as close as Tampa Bay would come, as Winnipeg held off, despite a strong late push from Tampa.
The Jets had third period breakaways from David Gustafsson, Kyle Connor and Mason Appleton, but could not find another goal on Vasilevskiy, while Victor Hedman hit the goalpost behind Hellebuyck with just five seconds left in the game with the Bolts’ star netminder on the bench for the extra attacker.
With the win, Winnipeg moves to 38-26-3 on the season and climbs back into third place in the Central Division, one point up on Colorado, which does still have three games in hand on the Jets.
Despite the two wins, things do not get any easier for Winnipeg, which now faces the NHL’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams, in the Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins next week, respectively. The Jets will travel to Carolina for a test against the Canes on Tuesday, before returning home to host the Bruins on Thursday evening from Canada Life Centre. Both games will be available to view on TSN, with Tuesday’s starting at 6:00 PM central, and Thursday’s beginning at 7:00 PM.