It wasn’t the prettiest win, but with the end of the regular season in sight, the Winnipeg Jets will take two points however they can.
The Jets got a pair of first-period goals, weathered a massive storm in the second, and clamped things down in the third to edge the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 Tuesday night.
The Jets finally had a strong start after allowing the first goal in 12 of their previous 14 games. Nikolaj Ehlers and Adam Lowry scored first period goals to give the Jets the lead, but then they regressed back to their old ways in a poor middle frame.
The Jets were outshot 18-3 in the second period and didn’t register a single shot on goal in the final 16 minutes of the period, but Connor Hellebucyk was nearly flawless as the Jets picked up a crucial two points.
“We stopped attacking,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “We got soft with the puck. And they were fighting to get back in the game. We got hemmed in our zone a couple shifts which took all the steam out of our game.
“It’s funny, the second period, the bench, it got quiet cause they could see what was going on. The third period there was a lot of energy on the bench and that took itself out on the ice. And we had everyone going, but the bench was really energized in the third period. They knew what was at stake. You knew we had to find a way to win this game.”
Hellebuyck stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced, including an unbelievable save in the second period while he was out of the net, stretching back to make the stop with the paddle of his stick.
“We got away from it in the second,” said Jets forward Adam Lowry. “But fortunately Helly is in net and he played great and gave us a chance to win.”
It was a much-needed victory for a team that had lost three of their last four games, while getting shutout in two of their last three.
“I think we were just on our toes and a lot more aggressive and skating,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey. “I thought in the second we just kinda sagged back and we were kinda creating too many one-on-one battles all over the ice and not winning them.
“So that’s kinda the tale of two periods. The first we were. The second we weren’t. And I thought we got back to it again in the third.”
The Jets power play continues to be a sore spot, now 0-for-19 on the man advantage in their last five games.
The Jets swept the season series against the Coyotes, winning all three meetings by a single goal.
Jets forward Nino Niederreiter appeared in his 800th career NHL game in the win.
The Nashville Predators also won on Tuesday, while the Calgary Flames had a late start in Anaheim, so the Jets cushion for the final playoff spot is at five points pending the outcome of the Flames game.
It looked like the start might be another bad one for the Jets when Josh Morrissey was called for hooking just 29 seconds in, but if there’s been one constant through the Jets’ inconsistent run of play, it’s been their penalty kill, which took care of business.
A few minutes later, Winnipeg broke through and opened the scoring. Ehlers intercepted a pass at the Jets blue line and skated in alone on Karel Vejmelka.
The Arizona keeper denied the first shot but Ehlers buried the rebound to give the Jets the opening goal, just the second time in the past 11 games that Winnipeg scored first.
Arizona got a second crack on the man advantage just past the midway point of the period but it was Winnipeg who cashed in.
Neal Pionk made a beautiful stretch pass to Morgan Barron to spark a 2-on-1. Barron sauced a pass to Lowry who blasted it past Vejmelka to make it 2-0. It was Lowry’s third shorthanded goal of the year.
Winnipeg carried that 2-0 lead into the intermission but the Coyotes roared to life in the second period, dominating time of possession and hemming the Jets in their own end.
They came oh-so-close to getting on the board after hitting a post, but in the ensuing scramble, with Hellebuyck out of position, the puck was sent toward the open net but Hellebuyck laid his stick across the goal line and kept it out.
After a number of close calls, Arizona finally broke through at the 11:46 mark. Hellebuyck made the initial save on a weak backhand shot, but couldn’t control the rebound and Barrett Hayton banged home the rebound to make it a 2-1 game.
Winnipeg got a chance with the man advantage a couple of minutes later but the power play did nothing, prompting some boos from the home crowd.
Arizona kept their foot down through the rest of the period, pouring pressure on Hellebuyck who faced 18 shots in the frame compared to just three for Vejmelka, but it remained a 2-1 game through 40 minutes.
The Jets looked far more composed in the third period, managing to keep the Coyotes in their own end for longer stretches.
It didn’t hurt that most of the first half of the period was spent on the power play, thanks to a holding call and a double-minor for high-sticking but the moribund specialty unit again came up empty.
The Coyotes couldn’t generate much of a push as the third wore on, dooming themselves with a tripping penalty with 1:43 to go.
Winnipeg outshot the Coyotes 12-5 in the final frame to secure the win and maintain their edge on the Flames and Predators in the wild card chase.
Hellebuyck was named the first star of the game, making 29 saves for the win while Vejmelka stopped 23 shots on the night.
Winnipeg will now head out west for a three-game road trip starting Thursday night in Anaheim. Pregame coverage on 680 CJOB begins at 6:30 p.m. with the puck dropping just after 9 p.m.