Through the first 14 games of the Winnipeg Jets season, Kyle Connor had just two goals.
He tacked three more onto that total Thursday night, including the winner in the final minute as the Jets knocked off the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 on the night they honoured Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen.
Connor scored the original go ahead goal with around five minutes left. The Ducks tied it up only 28 seconds later, but Connor struck again with just 54 seconds left to give the Jets their second win in a row.
“It feels pretty good,” said Connor. “I felt like the game wasn’t too far off. I put a little more emphasis on getting to the net tonight, just being around more, more pucks around there. The last couple – great plays by Schife (Mark Scheifele).
“Just put yourself in good situations, that’s all you can ask for. So I wasn’t getting too frustrated throughout the first 10,12,13 games there.”
It was Connor’s third career hat trick.
“It was just a matter of time,” said head coach Rick Bowness. “We always keep track of danger zone scoring chances and he’s always been one of our best at getting those quality chances in the danger zone.
“He had some really good looks early that didn’t go in. And I think that first one gave him a big boost, and you could see all of a sudden the stride picked up, and the enthusiasm picked up a lot, so there’s a little bit of a weight off his shoulders.”
And on the night they hung Selanne and Numminen’s jersey numbers in the rafters, Connor even contemplated throwing his glove in the air to salute the Finnish Flash.
“Me and Wheels (Blake Wheeler) were talking about if whoever scores first is gonna throw the glove up and do his celly (celebration),” said Connor. “But didn’t do it.”
The Jets are now 6-1 on home ice this season and have at least a point in nine of their last 10 games.
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Josh Morrissey recorded one assist to extend his point streak to six games.
The Jets had the bulk of the early chances, with Pierre-Luc Dubois ringing a shot off the post from point-blank range.
But the road team woke up and responded, carrying play for a large chunk of the opening frame before their efforts were rewarded just past the midway point.
With John Gibson on the bench for a delayed penalty call, Troy Terry’s wrist shot through traffic ricocheted through Connor Hellebuyck to give Anaheim the early lead.
The Ducks remained in control for the start of the second, not conceding a shot for over six minutes, but could not build on their lead as Winnipeg began to wrestle control back in their favour.
The Jets got their first power play chance just past the midway point of the frame when former Jet Dmitry Kulikov was penalized for high-sticking, sending Winnipeg to work against one of the worst penalty killing units in the NHL.
Winnipeg made them pay when Connor buried a rebound through a pile of bodies near Gibson to even the score. A second power play later in the period did not bear fruit for Winnipeg as the teams went into the intermission tied 1-1.
The third period flowed along beautifully, with over eight minutes elapsing without a whistle at one point before Connor took a great feed from Scheifele and buried it from in close to give Winnipeg a 2-1 lead with just 5:45 remaining.
But the Jets’ first lead of the game lasted only 28 seconds. Adam Henrique hit a cutting Trevor Zegras, who eluded coverage and roofed it past Hellebuyck to level the game once more.
It seemed as if the game would be destined for overtime, as Selanne jokingly said earlier in the day he hoped would happen, but the Jets’ top line went to work late to grab the lead for good.
As Connor cut into the slot, Scheifele hit him with a perfect pass that Connor wired through Gibson with just 54 seconds left to earn his third career hat-trick and get his team its eighth win in its last ten games.
Hellebuyck made 29 saves as Winnipeg improves to 10-4-1 on the season heading into a home date with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.