The Winnipeg Jets’ top line was firing on all cylinders as Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor all scored as it finally came together in a 5-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
With the win, the Jets confirmed a meeting with the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs, locking up third place in the North Division. Winnipeg is now three points ahead of fourth-place Montreal with only a game left on the season for each team.
Wheeler led the way for the Jets with two goals and two assists for his tenth multi-point night this season. The captain has 11 points in his last 10 games.
The victory ended a seven-game home losing streak, but the head coach is clearly a believer that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.
“I think what we went through is really, really important,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “I think we have a far, far better chance of winning now than we did three weeks ago.”
After scoring just three goals over their last three contests, this was the kind of offensive performance the Jets had been searching for the last couple weeks. They won just one of their previous 10 contests, but it now seems they’ve finally regained their scoring touch.
“The bounces just kinda went our way tonight,” said Wheeler. “Helly (Connor Hellebuyck) was good. We didn’t give up a whole lot, but yeah, I mean, it’s important to get a good feeling going in the room. I think throughout this stretch we’ve stayed together and stayed tight, and we haven’t turned on each other, so that’s as adverse of a stretch I’ve been through, so it’s nice to see the guys still pulling together.”
Connor had a three-point night of his own, scoring the eventual game-winner and assisting on both of Wheeler’s goals. Mason Appleton had the other tally for Winnipeg.
The Jets were coming off a 3-1 loss to the Canucks on Monday night.
Hellebuyck made 24 saves for the shutout, his fourth of the season. The Jets’ starting goaltender did not dress in the team’s last game and had gone 1-6-0 in his last eight games heading into Tuesday night. Despite that run of form, Hellebuyck now has shutouts in two of his last three starts.
“I’ve liked my game,” Hellebuyck said. “I’ve liked my game for awhile. I thought it’s been getting better, and better, and better. When the team puts that performance in front of me, we can grow this as a group. This is the confidence we need going into the playoffs. We can’t go into the playoffs losing. It never works. We played a really good game tonight, and I’m really excited to see how we carry this forward.”
The Jets were riding an emotional high after veteran Paul Stastny was honoured prior to the match for appearing in his 1000th career NHL game. He’s the first player on the Jets to reach that milestone since the team returned to Winnipeg 10 years ago, and his wife and two children were in attendance to witness it.
“It was emotional. I think I got watery eye,” Stastny said. “My wife and the kids sacrificed. They didn’t go to daycare or Montessori school for 10 days. They’ve been hunkered down. I was super paranoid just cause they wanted to make the night special. They’ve been tested multiple times and never complained. So, more than anything, I’m happy it’s over with, and they got to be part of it.”
Stastny had a couple of early chances to score, but ended the night pointless in 15:50 of ice time and went 53 percent in the faceoff circle.
Wheeler should reach the same milestone next season sitting only 20 games short of 1000.
The game also saw forward Dominic Toninato make his Jets’ debut. He replaced Jansen Harkins in the lineup and recorded one shot on goal and two hits in a little under 12 minutes of ice time. Toninato started the season on long-term injured reserve after having complications with COVID-19 that he was diagnosed with in November.
“It was good to finally get the chance,” he said. “Getting those games with the (Manitoba) Moose definitely helped me get ready for tonight, so overall, it’s been a tough year, but we made the most out of it.”
On the blueline, Neal Pionk returned to the lineup after missing the past two games. Ville Heinola was a healthy scratch after suiting up the past two contests.
In the nine meetings between the two clubs this season, the home team won only twice.
Connor opened the scoring for the Jets at 7:28 of the first period. A deft touch from Wheeler in the neutral zone allowed Connor to enter the Canucks zone and slip the puck under the pad of Vancouver goaltender Braden Holtby. After ending a seven-game goalless drought on Monday, Connor has scored in back-to-back games.
The Jets had their fair share of chances in the opening frame, outshooting the Canucks 11-6. Mathieu Perreault nearly doubled the lead with a shot from the edge of the crease, but couldn’t beat the post.
Wheeler gave his side a two-goal lead just over two minutes into the second period. The captain corralled a loose puck at the top of the circle, charged the net, and deked out Holtby as he backhanded the puck into the open goal. It was Wheeler’s fourth goal in his last eight games.
Scheifele put the Jets ahead by three a few minutes later as he tipped a Wheeler point shot over the glove of Holtby. Connor worked the puck down low and found Jordie Benn at the blue line, who then teed up Wheeler for the one-timer that Scheifele got a stick on from in front of the net. Scheifele extended his point streak to four games with the goal.
Hellebuyck stood tall in the period, as the Canucks outshot the Jets 11-10, but could not beat Winnipeg’s goalie.
The Jets would keep the heat on in the third, outshooting Vancouver 7-1 early in the frame. Wheeler would add to the lead with his second goal of the night, working a give and go with Connor before flipping the puck over the shoulder of Holtby from a tight angle.
Appleton rounded out the scoring with just over eight minutes to play. He took a pass from Perreault at the faceoff dot and ripped a shot past Holtby. Appleton has goals in two of his last three games as he moved his career-high goal total to 11 on the season.
Vancouver had no answer for the Jets, as Winnipeg outshot the Canucks 15-7 in the third and 36-24 overall. Holtby made 29 saves in the loss.
The Jets close out the regular season on Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. You can listen to the game live on 680 CJOB with Kelly Moore, Paul Edmonds, and Jamie Thomas with the pregame show starting at 5 p.m. and puck drop just after 7 p.m.