Returning from their season-long seven-game road trip, the Winnipeg Jets couldn’t keep up with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs got out to an early start, netting two goals in the opening 11 minutes, and outshot the Jets 14-6 in the first period on their way to a 3-1 victory. The win moved the Leafs three points up on Winnipeg for first place in the North Division.
The Leafs have now been victorious in each of their last four trips to Winnipeg and took a 3-2 lead in the season series after the first five meetings.
“It was a pretty stinky start,” Jets forward Mark Scheifele said. “No two ways to slice it, but we really came back in the second and third, showed a lot of resiliency, a lot of heart.
“We had a lot of guys working hard. We got our chances. (Jack) Campbell stood strong. He made a lot of big saves, especially in that second period. We just couldn’t buy one.”
The Jets held a massive advantage in shots after the first period, outshooting the Leafs 21-12 over the final two periods in the opener to the four-game homestand.
“I was worried about this one right from the day the schedule came out,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “It looked like it in the first. I actually really liked our second. I thought they got a bunch of shots on the power-play in the first six minutes.
“But you’re thinking you can get out of it, right. You think that after the first, and we did. We looked good in the second, but you could you see signs that we were having a hard time getting a handle on some pucks, and just behind it a little bit.”
Jets captain Blake Wheeler left the game with an undisclosed injury after the first period.
“We’ll get it looked at tomorrow and have something for you in a couple days,” said Maurice. “It just wasn’t feeling right, so we wanted to be careful with it.”
The Jets have managed to stay relatively healthy in the first three months of the season, and Maurice didn’t want to speculate how long Wheeler could be out of the lineup.
“Truly, I don’t know,” said Maurice. “He may be back on the ice full on next game. So, it’s not COVID related. We just want to be real careful with him here tonight. And he may be back and never miss a shift again, so it’s wide open right now.”
Scheifele soaked up the extra ice time after Wheeler departed, playing over 23 minutes. The Jets have used the exact same lineup for the past 12 straight games, but with Wheeler’s status up in the air, that could change for Friday’s rematch.
The game marked the end of a busy month for the Jets who played 17 games over 31 days in March. It won’t get any easier in April with five more games against the division leading Leafs next month.
Auston Matthews didn’t waste much time finding the back of the net less than five minutes into the opening frame. Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois missed a check and collided with Derek Forbort giving the league leader in goals an open look, lifting the puck blocker side.
He is pacing the pack for the Rocket Richard Trophy now with 24 goals, including eight game-winners, which also leads the league.
Almost six minutes later, the Leafs pressured a tired defensive Jets pairing as Mitch Marner grabbed a loose puck, toe-dragged a sliding Logan Stanley and fed it across to Matthews who rang it off the post. Zach Hyman leaned on Tucker Poolman before finding the loose puck behind Hellebuyck’s right pad, knocking in his 12th of the season. The Jets challenged for goalie interference, but were denied and assessed a two minute penalty for delay of game on the unsuccessful challenge.
In the first period, the Leafs defence kept the shots to a minimum. Head coach Sheldon Keefe said goalie Jack Campbell is still battling a “day-to-day” lower body issue. Campbell didn’t play in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Oilers on Monday and Frederik Andersen didn’t make the trip to Winnipeg, so Campbell should be thankful the guys in front of him blocked 18 shots against the fourth highest scoring team this season.
With the second period winding down, T.J. Brodie took a double-minor after getting his stick up high on Paul Stastny and initially the man advantage didn’t help the Jets claw their way back into the game.
Toronto’s Alexander Kerfoot picked up a loose puck at the red line with a step on Josh Morrissey, beating Hellebuyck glove side shorthanded to put his team up 3-0. Morrissey made up for the defensive misstep, firing home a point shot 90 seconds later for the first power-play goal of the game.
Heading into the final frame holding the most dangerous lead in hockey, the Leafs’ stellar 8-1 record when leading after 40 minutes on the road turned to 9-1 after controlling the puck and the pace for the majority of the third period.
Hellebuyck finished the night with 23 stops, while Campbell made 26 saves at the other end.
The Jets hope to have Wheeler back in the lineup for the rematch on Friday with the pregame show on 680 CJOB at 5 p.m. and puck drop shortly after 7 p.m.