The Winnipeg Jets opened a four-game road trip with a statement win Thursday night, taking down the division-leading Colorado Avalanche 4-2 in Denver for their third straight victory.
Kyle Connor scored a pair of goals and Connor Hellebuyck was fantastic once again in making 32 saves to win their first meeting of the season.
The victory ended Colorado’s five-game home win streak and moved the Jets just two points back of the Avs for the division lead.
“That was a great effort,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “It really was. Our penalty killers did a huge job for us in the third period. When we need the big save from Helly, we got it. But Mark’s (Scheifele) line is playing fantastic. Adam’s (Lowry) line did a great job. Our fourth line did a fantastic job tonight.
“That’s a great hockey team over there. But, you know, if we want to, and we talked about it this morning, (if) we want to be considered an elite team, you gotta beat the teams ahead of you. And we proved tonight that we can play with anybody.”
The Jets scored a momentum changing goal with just three seconds left in the first period to open the scoring and then struck again only 32 seconds in the middle frame to give them two goals in the span of only 35 seconds.
The Avs got back to within a single goal on two different occasions, but the Jets managed to weather the storm, including killing off a 5-on-3 power play in the final period.
The Jets penalty kill continues to come around, going a perfect 4-for-4 on the night.
“Earlier in the year we’ve said numerous times, we just feel like we’re a foot off, we’re close,” said Lowry. “We’re close to getting back to where we want to be, to kinda of that upper tier where we think and we expect where we can be the difference in the game. I think tonight you saw we didn’t really give up many grade-A chances.”
The Jets have given up less than three goals in all three games during the current win streak and they haven’t allowed four goals in a game since November 2, a stretch of 15 straight games. But all of their last six matches have been decided by two goals or less.
“I think that’s what a good playoff team is made of,” Hellebuyck said. “Those are the games that you get yourself into quite a bit if you’re a contending team.”
It was Hellebuyck’s 250th career NHL win.
Logan Stanley stayed in the lineup for the Jets, while Nate Schmidt was a healthy scratch for the third straight game.
Vladislav Namestnikov missed a third straight game with a lower-body injury.
Neither team was able to generate much in the opening period, with Colorado failing on a power play chance and Ross Colton missing the net on a 2-on-1.
But just moments before the horn sounded to close out the first, the Jets stunned the home team with a late goal from their captain.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby chipped the puck into the Colorado end, a seemingly harmless play with seconds on the clock. Devon Toews went back to collect it for the Avalanche but his attempt to rim it along the boards was knocked down by the stick of Jonsson-Fjallby.
He then sent a pass to Lowry, skating hard into the slot, and the captain wired the puck past Alexandar Georgiev with 2.2 seconds to go in the period.
Winnipeg wasted little time in doubling their lead early in the second. After Josh Morrissey sent the puck around the boards in the Avalanche end, Nikolaj Ehlers grabbed it and sent a pass to Connor in the slot. Connor spun and quickly whipped a shot that beat Georgiev to make it 2-0 just 32 seconds into the middle frame.
Colorado responded quickly as Nathan MacKinnon blew past Stanley and roofed one past Hellebuyck at the 2:30 mark to make it 2-1.
It stayed 2-1 for a while as both teams failed to convert on the power play before the Jets restored their two goal lead at the 15:13 mark.
After a great back-check by Gabriel Vilardi, the Jets broke the puck up the ice. After setting up in the Colorado end, the Jets worked the puck around to Morrissey on the left point. He skated in and placed a perfect slapshot through a screen, beating Georgiev to make it 3-1.
The Avalanche got one back with just over 30 seconds to go in the frame. Brenden Dillon attempted a hipcheck on MacKinnon along the boards in the Winnipeg end but only got a piece of him. MacKinnon then fed Joel Kiviranta in front, who steered it under the bar to make it 3-2 after 40 minutes.
Colorado had a great chance to even the game early in the third when Morrissey took a tripping penalty and 1:14 later, Dylan Samberg was called for high-sticking. But Hellebuyck stood strong and the Jets penalty kill took care of business, keeping their one-goal lead safe.
Winnipeg locked it down from there, allowing little in terms of high-quality chances before Connor chipped the puck around a Colorado defender and skated the puck into an empty net with 37 seconds to go to seal the win. The goal was Connor’s 17th of the season to pull into a tie for second in the NHL.
Hellebuyck has now allowed two goals or fewer in seven consecutive starts. Georgiev made 24 saves in defeat.
The Jets will go for a fourth straight win Sunday night in Anaheim against the Ducks. Pregame coverage on 680 CJOB starts at 5 p.m. with the puck dropping just after 7 p.m.