With the chance to secure a four-game win streak for the first time all season, the Winnipeg Jets could not get the job done, dropping a 7-3 decision to the Maple Leafs in Toronto Thursday night.
Winnipeg led 2-0 before the game was eight minutes old, but eventually gave up four goals in the second period.
“We played good in the first, but I think we were cooked the rest of the game,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “Second period, we just didn’t have anything. Tried to push a little bit in the third and couldn’t get one to go early.”
Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry said the team can take some positives away from Thursday, despite losing by four goals.
“You don’t like the end result, but we did a lot of good things,” Lowry said. “There’s some areas we need to continue to improve on. You have to have a short-term memory this time of year, so obviously disappointed, but we know we have another big game Saturday.”
After surviving a brutal start in Buffalo the night before, the Jets came out flying and got on the board first thanks to Wheeler.
The captain took a pass in stride in the neutral zone, blew past Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano and made a simple deke to beat Erik Källgren at the 3:17 mark.
The Jets weren’t done there. After Nikolaj Ehlers missed the net on a solid chance, Paul Stastny found the puck behind the net and beat Källgren on a wrap-around, giving Winnipeg a 2-0 less than eight minutes in.
Toronto got some good quality looks on a pair of power plays in the first but could not beat Eric Comrie, though thanks to a very fortuitous bounce the Leafs got on the board with just under five minutes to go.
After a Mark Scheifele turnover in the neutral zone led to an offensive possession for the Leafs, Giordano skated down the wall and sent a puck toward the net that bounced off Logan Stanley and Brenden Dillon before finding its way into the net.
Still, the Jets had to be pretty happy with that start. But any good vibes quickly vanished once the second period got going.
Less than two minutes into the period, Mason Appleton was sent to the box for tripping and just 18 seconds later, William Nylander scored to tie the game.
Ehlers restored the lead at the 3:45 mark on a Winnipeg man advantage when he ripped a wrist shot through a great Wheeler screen.
But the lead lasted all of 23 seconds because John Tavares banged home a juicy rebound past Comrie to make it 3-3.
Discipline issues continued for the Jets as Pierre-Luc Dubois was sent to the box for tripping, setting the stage for Toronto to take the lead for the first time.
After Comrie made a fantastic save, Nylander was first to the puck in a goal-mouth scramble and knocked home his second of the night to put the Leafs in front at the 8:40 mark.
The Jets nearly tied the game when Ehlers hit a streaking Stastny going to the net but the veteran forward chipped it wide, though seconds later a penalty was called to send Winnipeg to the power play.
It did not go well for the Jets.
After Josh Morrissey pinched at the point, Pierre Engvall got the puck in the neutral zone and as he took a big hit from Dubois, he found Ilya Mikheyev skating away from Scheifele. Mikheyev made no mistake, giving the Leafs a 5-3 lead thanks to the shorthanded tally.
The Leafs outshot the Jets 13-5 in the second and carried a 25-13 edge in shots through two periods, with ten of Toronto’s shots coming with the man advantage.
A fifth Leafs power play near the midway point of the third was fruitless, generating just one shot as Winnipeg now had nine minutes left to try and mount a rally.
Officials may have called a number of penalties but several others were left uncalled, especially down the stretch of the third.
With just over three minutes left, the Jets decided to pull the goalie and almost immediately the Leafs got a great chance to seal the game but David Kämpf hit the post of the empty net.
It only delayed the inevitable because a minute later, Auston Matthews hit the empty net for his 50th of the season, the first player in the NHL this season to reach that milestone. He’s only the fourth player in Maple Leafs history to hit that milestone.
With the game out of hand, some rough stuff ensued that put the Leafs back on the power play. Timothy Liljegren wired one past Comrie to make it 7-3.
The Jets backup made 31 saves in the defeat while Källgren only had to make 20 saves to get the win.
Winnipeg is now three points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference after the Dallas Stars defeated Anaheim Thursday night. Dallas also has three games in hand on the Jets.
“We need to continue grinding,” said Ehlers. “It doesn’t matter if we would’ve been out (of the playoffs) by now, or like right now where we’re still in it. There’s gotta be some belief in winning games, because we got the team to do it.”
The Jets will return home for a date with the Kings Saturday night. It’s a 6 p.m. start with pregame coverage on CJOB starting at 4 p.m.