After scoring just nine goals in a 1-5-1 stretch, the Winnipeg Jets exploded for eight goals Friday, including a hat trick from Mark Scheifele, in an 8-4 win over a New Jersey Devils team playing for the second straight night.
It was the Jets first game since Monday, which capped off a stretch of five contests in eight days, and Scheifele says the break helped them find some offensive punch again.
“We were able to get rest and able to get fresh legs. A lot of guys had a little more pop in their step,” Scheifele said. “Having that much time off is huge, after the amount of games we played in a short amount of time and we used that to our advantage.”
The game was not without its issueS for the Jets though, who let a 3-0 first-period lead slip away, and found themselves trailing 4-3 early in the second, before turning the tide for good with five unanswered goals.
“It should have never gotten to that,” said Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who added two goals. “We stopped playing and gave them time and space to make their plays. That’s something we have to look at and not let happen again.”
Maurice hopes Friday’s offensive outburst will be a confidence-builder.
“The puck’s gotta go in the net for players,” Maurice said. “You can talk about the chances you have and Mark’s had a bunch of chances, but tonight, all three are special shots, but two of them are what he can do at speed that not a lot of guys can.”
The Jets didn’t take long to get the crowd going when Scheifele found himself alone in close and put a wicked deke on Jonathan Bernier before roofing it 1:52 into the game.
Exactly two minutes later, Ehlers one-timed a nice touch pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois off the post and past Bernier to make it 2-0.
The onslaught continued less than four minutes later. Damon Severson committed a terrible turnover behind his own net, Paul Stastny scooped it up and fed Kristian Vesalainen alone in front for his second of the year.
It seemed as if the Jets had righted the wrongs of their November slump, but the good vibes did not last long.
The Jets’ lousy penalty kill reared its ugly head when Severson wired one past Connor Hellebuyck on the power play near the midway point of the period.
Winnipeg almost escaped the opening 20 minutes with a two-goal lead, but Jack Hughes knocked home a rebound to cut the lead to one with just 24 seconds left.
The Devils would burst out of the gates in the second. Nico Hischier tied the game just 37 seconds in and 39 seconds later, a Ryan Graves point shot went off Josh Morrissey’s head and into the net, giving the visitors the lead.
Three goals allowed in 1:40 had the Jets shell-shocked, and New Jersey got close to making it a 5-3 game later in the period but an attempt in close on Hellebuyck hit the post.
Just past the halfway point of the second, the Jets tied the game when Ehlers scored his second of the game, kicking a feed from Dubois from his skate to his stick and wiring it past Bernier.
The Jets regained the lead at the 15:26 mark when a Blake Wheeler point shot deflected off Morrissey, lost most of its momentum and bounced through Bernier.
Just before the end of the period and with Winnipeg on a power play, Scheifele picked up the puck in his own end for one last rush and buried a wrist shot that should have been stopped by Bernier.
It broke a 2-for-38 stretch with the man advantage for the team, gave the home side a 6-4 advantage after two wildly up-and-down periods, and spelled the end of Bernier’s night as he was replaced by Mackenzie Blackwood.
After nearly eight minutes without a whistle in the third, Scheifele would get his fourth career hat trick. Kyle Connor sped through the neutral zone, dropped it off to Wheeler who zipped a pass cross-ice that Scheifele one-timed past Blackwood, prompting the hats to fly at Canada Life Centre.
Just for good measure, a Logan Stanley wrist shot deflected past Blackwood late in the third to make it 8-4, the first of the season for the big defenceman.
Hellebuyck finished with 33 saves on the night while Bernier gets saddled with the loss, stopping 26 of the 32 shots he faced.
The Jets will be back in action Sunday night at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs in what will be the 1,000th game of Wheeler’s NHL career.