By Scott Taylor
Photos by James Carey Lauder and Bruce Fedyck
The Winnipeg Jets might have been eliminated from the playoffs, but they aren’t giving up on themselves.
Thursday night in front of a full house (OK, it wasn’t full when the winning goal was scored) at MTS Centre, the Jets got an overtime goal from Mark Scheifele – on Mark Scheifele Bobblehead Night, no less — to beat the playoff-bound and Pacific Division leader Anaheim Ducks 4-3.
But this was more than just your run-of-the-mill overtime win. The Jets trailed 3-1 with nine minutes to play in regulation time and while they were pressing in the third period, it didn’t look as if they’d ever beat Ducks netminder Jonathan Bernier.
And then Blake Wheeler scored at 11:35 from Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba. With the score 3-2, the Jets barely let the puck escape the Anaheim zone in the final six minutes. The Jets peppered shots at Bernier until Dustin Byfuglien jammed in a loose puck at the corner of the net to tie the game with 12 seconds left in the third period. Mathieu Perreault and and Ehlers assisted as the crowd went nuts and the home side had forced overtime.
In OT, the Jets got the only two shots on goal and then second one, a bullet by Scheifele from the (Bernier’s) right circle, snapped into the net and gave the Jets their 36th win of the season.
With the win, Winnipeg is now 36-35-7 and with four games remaining have certainly not embarrassed themselves down the stretch. The Jets have won three straight games and are 6-3-1 in their last 10.
“The 3-2 goal was big, right?” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “All the momentum shifts at that point. We just skated better, especially in the offensive zone with the puck on our stick and created more holes and more lanes and that was the tilting of the ice that happened.”
The Jets trailed 2-1 after the first period as Jakob Silfverberg and Corey Perry scored for Anaheim and Joel Armia answered for the Jets. Armia’s goal came shorthanded at 11:54 – Armia’s 10th goal of the season and his fourth shorthanded.
Perry’s second of the night and 18th of the year was the only goal of the second period as Anaheim carried a 3-1 advantage into the third period.
But the final period belonged to the Jets. They not only scored two unanswered goals, they outshot the Ducks 17-2.
The game might not have meant much in terms of the outcome of the 2016-17 season, but it obviously meant something to the Jets. They played brilliantly in the third against one of the best teams in the NHL. It suggested to many Jets fans that this team should have been so much better.
The Jets outshot Anaheim 41-28 – 19-2 from the start of the third period until Scheifele’s winning goal at 3:34 of overtime.
“We decided to not just quit,” said Ehlers. “We wanted to keep going. We wanted get the two points no matter what. We worked our asses off those last 20 minutes and it feels good.
“We don’t want to just go out there and play. We got 16,000 fans out there and a lot more watching on TV. It would not be very nice to them to just go out there and play. But also for ourselves. We know we’re a good hockey team. We haven’t showed that as much as we’ve wanted to this year. We want to finish off strong.”
Byfuglien led the Jets in ice time, logging 29 minutes and 53 seconds. He had a goal, two assists, was plus two and had six shots on goal. He often looked more like a rightwinger than a defenseman, but it was still one of his best games of the year.
“He’s not at 100 per cent, either so he had to pick his spots,” said Maurice. “He still played lots of minutes. I’ve seen that in his game for a while. He’s trying to be – especially with the injuries – less involved offensively, in terms of every shift, trying to drive the offensive game. He picked his spots more. He was certainly a difference-maker there tonight,”
Scheifele played 26 minutes and 47 seconds and had a goal, was plus two and had five shots on net.
The Jets play again on Saturday night – their second-to-last home game of the year – at 6 p.m. CDT against the Ottawa Senators.
THE NOTEBOOK: The Jets announced they’ve agreed to terms with 23-year-old University of North Dakota defenseman Tucker Poolman on a one-year entry level contract with an annual value of $1,775,000. The product of East Grand Forks, Minn., tallied seven goals and 30 points in 38 games as a junior with UND this season. He was selected the National College Hockey Conference Defenseman of the Year and named to the All-NCHC First Team and All-NCHC Tournament Team. Poolman will now undergo bi-lateral shoulder surgery with the first surgery coming later this week. His availability for Winnipeg Jets training camp will be determined upon completion of his second surgery.