Refreshed and recharged after the all-star break, the Winnipeg Jets played their best game in weeks by shutting down the visiting Minnesota Wild in an entertaining 2-0 win.
Playing in front of thousands of fans in their own building for the first time in over seven weeks, the Jets came out with tons of energy, while playing some tight-checking, physical, playoff-style hockey in shutting out the red hot Wild.
The Wild are the fourth highest scoring team in the NHL and had won nine of their previous 10 games.
“We protected the house real well,” said Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. “We had good back-checking, our ‘D’ just played a phenomenal game keeping everything to the outside, allowing me to see pucks, and clean rebounds. And that’s huge.”
Hellebuyck stopped 27 shots for his third shutout of the season, and the 27th of his career. The Jets surrendered seven goals to the Wild the last time they met in November.
“I think it’s playing start to finish,” said head coach Dave Lowry. “That’s the biggest thing. We all know this is a tough division to win in. You look at the style, you look at the team – this is the way you have to play.”
The game was scoreless in the opening period when Brenden Dillon caught Marcus Foligno with an open ice hit. Dillon and Jordan Greenway squared off at centre ice, while Adam Lowry fought Foligno at the same time.
When the dust settled, the Jets had a power play and Mark Scheifele capitalized on the man advantage to give the Jets the lead for good.
“I see Foligno kinda going in to jump in and I’m just trying to do my part and help Dills (Dillon) out,” said Lowry. “I think one-on-one is a better way to go.
“I think that just set the tone for us.”
Foligno and Lowry met again later in round two in the third period, and the fight ended with Foligno dropping a knee on Lowry’s face.
“That’s something that I don’t really care for,” said Lowry. “But it’s the heat of the moment sometimes. Your emotions get the best of you.”
The win started off a stretch of five straight games against divisional opponents.
“It felt like a Central Division game tonight,” said defenceman Brenden Dillon. “I think it was almost a perfect game to come back after a long layoff like that. Physical, attention to detail – I think those were kinda the key games. It felt like a playoff game.”
The Jets played without Pierre-Luc Dubois, Neal Pionk, and Austin Poganski after they were placed in COVID-19 protocols on Monday.
The Jets had multiple chances on an early power play but could not find the back of the net. Ville Heinola had the best chance but his shot on a mostly empty net was blocked.
Just over seven minutes into the period, fans got to see something you rarely see in a hockey game: two fights at the same time.
It all started when Dillon dropped a big hit on Foligno. Greenway took exception and immediately dropped the gloves with Dillon, and when Foligno tried to jump in on Dillon, Lowry grabbed him and pulled him aside into their own fight.
The crowd went nuts when Dillon took Greenway down, while the other two fought to a draw. Winnipeg got a power play out of the whole affair with Greenway getting a minor for roughing.
After Connor had a great chance go wide of the net, the Jets’ All Star setup Scheifele at the side of the net to give the team a well-earned 1-0 lead. Scheifele did not make good contact on the shot but the changeup fooled Kaapo Kahkonen.
It was an opening period that had great flow with minutes-long stretches without a whistle as both teams took turns with extended zone time. Minnesota had the edge in chances over the latter stages of the first but when the final horn sounded, Winnipeg remained in front 1-0 with a 10-6 edge in shots.
While the first period was quite eventful, the second period was not. The Wild did get a power play late in the period on a fairly weak interference call on Evgeny Svechnikov but the Jets killed it off. The officials had been letting a lot of borderline infractions go.
Minnesota managed to even the shot count at 17 heading into the third but the score remained 1-0 Winnipeg.
The Jets got a great opportunity to add to their lead with a power play about four minutes into the period. Once again Heinola had a solid chance that was denied by Kahkonen before Paul Stastny had the best chance. Cole Perfetti found him on his backhand in front of the net but he couldn’t control the puck and it bounced off his skate. If he was a right-handed shot, he likely would have had a tap-in goal.
Just past the 11-minute mark, Lowry and Foligno decided they weren’t done fighting. After Greenway got into a tussle with Blake Wheeler near the Jets bench, a number of players on the ice got into a scrum with Lowry and Foligno emerging to scrap for a second time on the night.
Foligno scored the takedown but while the two were down on the ice, Foligno put his knee into Lowry’s head, resulting in an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct with likely supplemental discipline coming down from the league in the near future.
The Jets could not take advantage, though, and with just under three minutes left the Wild decided to pull Kahkonen for an extra attacker.
After some tense moments where Wheeler and Scheifele could not hit the empty net, Nate Schmidt nailed it from centre ice to seal the win. The Wild decided to pull the goalie again and it appeared Stastny scored to make it 3-0 but the play was deemed offside.
Nonetheless, the final horn sounded soon after to give the Jets a much-needed two points in the standings.
The Jets won 71 per cent of faceoffs in the victory.
The Jets are now off until Friday when they visit the Dallas Stars.