The last time the Chicago Blackhawks visited Winnipeg, they fired their coach the next day. Their second visit went much better, spoiling the Jets’ recent good run of play.
The Jets started a four-game homestand on a sour note with a 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks on Monday at the Canada Life Centre. It ended Winnipeg’s streak of three consecutive games with at least a point.
Chicago goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 of 32 shots, but the Jets failed to generate much traffic in front of the net.
“We as a team need to do a better job of getting to him,” said defenceman Nate Schmidt. “Our ‘D’ – we shot pucks when we didn’t have guys in front and just making easy saves for him. When he gets into a groove, he’s a guy that can really feel the flow of the game, and I think we could have made it a lot tougher on him.”
“We didn’t have anybody in his eyes,” said interim head coach Dave Lowry. “I thought we did a real good job in the third. I think you look at the third period, we got on the body, we got traffic, and we had some opportunities.”
The Jets outshot the Hawks 32-24 but didn’t manage much in the way of second opportunities in the defeat.
Mark Scheifele scored the Jets’ lone tally giving him a four-game goal streak.
It was a disappointing start to a very important homestand with the Jets sitting seven points out of a playoff spot.
“In the third period we started getting on the body,” said Lowry. “And that has to be a staple of our game. That’s how we’re going to have to play. I think that you look at the games that we’ve played, this one was different. This one didn’t have the physical component and we got to go find that.”
“I didn’t think we had the same jump as we did the last couple games,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to have stretches like this the rest of the year where we’re playing a lot of games.
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“You got to find that type of energy on your bench and in your room when it’s a game that doesn’t have as much emotion to it as the previous ones you played.”
The game was scoreless early in the second period when Adam Lowry was stopped on a breakaway. At first glance it looked like a solid poke check by Fleury, but upon closer inspection, it appeared Fleury actually threw his stick at Lowry, and a penalty shot could have been called.
“I know what you want me to say,” said Dave Lowry. “I know what I have to say. It’s a bang-bang play and that’s all really I can say is that the stick came out of his hand, whether it was intentional or not, but it came out of his hand.”
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The Jets controlled play for most of the opening 20 minutes, which included a power play but were unable to beat Fleury. Winnipeg held an 11-8 edge in shots after one but the game remained without a goal.
Chicago got their first chance with the man advantage early in the second but it was Winnipeg that earned the best opportunity to score. Adam Lowry made a great play to spring himself loose on a breakaway but he was denied by Fleury.
Just past the midway point of the second, the Blackhawks drew first blood. Patrick Kane carried the puck into the Jets’ zone and beat Connor Hellebuyck five-hole with a wrist shot from the face-off dot.
Chiacgo nearly made it 2-0 a few minutes later when a point shot deflected off a stick and hit the post, and again minutes after that when a shot handcuffed Hellebuyck and the puck trickled just wide of an empty net.
Kane also hit the crossbar in the final minute of the second, but Winnipeg escaped further harm, entering the third period trailing by one goal.
With little spark in their game, the Jets found the equalizer out of nowhere just past the six minute mark of the third. A point shot from Schmidt hit a body in front, fluttered over Fleury and landed just shy of the goal line where it was knocked home by Scheifele.
The game did not remained tied for very long.
After an Andrew Copp turnover in the neutral zone, Alex DeBrincat collected the puck on his own side of centre ice, skated right up the middle into the Jets’ end and wired a wrister top shelf past Hellebuyck for his 28th goal of the season at the 9:42 mark.
The Jets pressed for the equalizer but with the net empty, Brandon Hagel sealed the deal thanks to a nice breakout pass from Fleury.
The veteran goalie was a big reason why the Blackhawks picked up the win.
Hellebuyck made 21 saves for a Jets team that came in feeling very good about their play after the all-star break, but the inconsistency that has plagued them much of the season caught up with them again.
Winnipeg will try to get back in the win column Wednesday night against the Wild.