Nikolaj Ehlers scored 20 seconds into overtime and the Winnipeg Jets picked up a much-needed 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night at Canada Life Centre.
The Jets felt they had the game won in regulation time when Blake Wheeler scored into the empty net with just 19 seconds remaining. But the goal was called off for a Jets penalty, and Josh Morrissey was sent to the box for slashing.
Just five seconds later, with only 14 seconds left, Oliver Bjorkstrand whacked in the puck to send it to an extra period. But Ehlers quickly scored on a breakaway in overtime to give the Jets the two points anyway.
While it was definitely a questionable penalty call, Morrissey still took his share of the blame.
“I got to control my emotions there,” said Morrissey. “And not put my team down, take the goal off the board. That’s why you have your teammates to pick you up when you make mistakes. That was a play I’d like to have back for sure, but we found a way in OT, and the guy beside me (Ehlers) saved my butt.”
The game marked the return of Patrik Laine to Winnipeg for the first time since the blockbuster trade last season that sent him to Columbus.
Laine was a minus-1 and held pointless, but recorded four shots on goal in 20:20 of ice time, which led all Columbus forwards.
“Scary for sure,” said Morrissey. “When he gets a little time and space anywhere in the slot, you want to get there as fast as possible to take it away from him, cause he’s lethal. We’ve seen that for years, so, it’s always weird playing against former teammates for the first time.”
Kyle Connor and Dominic Toninato each had a goal and an assist in the victory. Connor is now riding a 10-game point streak.
Adam Lowry returned to the lineup after a three-game absence while on the COVID protocol list. Interim head coach Dave Lowry split up his top line moving Wheeler and Mark Scheifele to separate lines.
“I liked the way the lines worked out,” the coach said. “We’ve been bouncing different ideas around and we had a full compliment of forwards tonight, and obviously, I like the size factor, I like the skill factor with Dubey (Pierre-Luc Dubois), Wheels (Wheeler), and KC (Connor).”
Eric Comrie had another solid outing, making 33 stops. He’s now won his last five straight starts with his last loss coming back on December 10,
“Coms man,” said Ehlers. “That guy works his ass off. Yeah, he doesn’t play a lot, but when he does, he plays fantastic. We got two goalies that give us a chance to win.”
The Jets (31-25-10) move to within three points of the Dallas Stars for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, but the Stars still have three games in hand.
After getting beat by the Ottawa Senators the night before, the Jets once again didn’t have the best first period, but showed some desperation in the second period by outshooting the Jackets 17-7.
“I think everyone left the rink with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths last night,” said Morrissey. “We had, I think, a constructive video meeting this morning that we knew what we needed to change.”
“I liked our response,” said Lowry. “I thought we played a real solid game. We had a purpose and it showed.”
The OT goal was Ehlers’ 20th of the season and came on a breakaway as he slid it through the legs of Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins after Comrie made a big save at the other end of the ice to keep the game going.
The Jets jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to Toninato’s sixth of the season, a deflection off a Brendon Dillon point shot and then a shorthanded marker from Connor, his 41st goal of the season.
Connor also added an assist on the Ehlers OT winner, which gives him 82 points on the year, tied for fourth in the NHL.
Columbus battled back, scoring just 31 seconds after Connor’s goal on an Adam Boqvist point shot. The Jets took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, despite being outshot 14-4 by Columbus.
Just over three minutes into the second, a brutal Logan Stanley turnover in his own zone eventually led to Brendan Gaunce sniping his fourth of the season past Comrie to tie the game.
The Jets regained the lead late in the period on a Morrissey power play goal, his 11th of the season, on a blast from the point.
Also returning to Winnipeg was former Jets forward Jack Roslovic and former Jets assistant and Manitoba Moose head coach Pascal Vincent, who is now an assistant coach with the Blue Jackets.
Roslovic had an assist and recorded 20:10 of ice time.
The team and the fans saluted the trio with a standing ovation during a first period TV timeout.
Jets forward Jansen Harkins did not finish the game after an awkward collision in the first period that left him favouring his left arm. He returned to the game briefly, but then left for good.
“He’ll be evaluated tonight and it was best that he didn’t play the rest of the game tonight.” Lowry said.
The Jets will finish off their four-game homestand on Sunday when they take on the Arizona Coyotes. The pregame show begins on 680 CJOB at 4 p.m., with the puck dropping just after 6 p.m.