The Winnipeg Jets started off their five-game road trip on a winning note with a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night.
The Jets struck for three goals in the opening 13 minutes, including one just 18 seconds in the contest, and they added an empty netter in the final frame for their fifth win over the Habs this season and a big two points.
The Jets now have victories in six of their last nine games.
“We’ll take the two points,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “A big win on the road. They played hard. You know what to expect against Montreal every night, but especially here. And considering they were on a back-to-back, they worked extremely hard and put a lot of pucks to the net.”
Despite the three-goal first period, the Jets were still outshot 18-9 in the opening 20 minutes.
It was their first contest without their captain with Blake Wheeler missing his first game in more than three full years after being officially diagnosed with a concussion.
“It’s always tough playing without your top players,” forward Trevor Lewis said. “Obviously, Wheels is a huge part of this team and we miss him. But I thought we came out early and played well, put a couple in there, and they had some pushback there, but I thought we weathered the storm pretty good.”
The Jets appeared to have a comfortable two-goal lead in the second period when a Canadiens dump-in took a funny hop off the end boards. With Connor Hellebuyck out to play the puck, Paul Byron had a wide open net to bring Montreal within one.
It’s the second time this season Hellebuyck has been caught out of his net on a bad bounce on a dump-in at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“I get a little bit angry cause I have no control over that kind of a bounce,” said Hellebuyck. “But I just move on. That’s kinda the story of this year – those crappy bounces. I can’t really afford to give up another one, so that becomes my main focus is now shutting it down.”
The Jets were outshot 38-27 as Hellebuyck finished the night with 36 stops.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice flip-flopped his top two lines in the third period, moving Nikolaj Ehlers alongside Paul Stastny and Pierre-Luc Dubois, while Andrew Copp went up with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.
“With the lines the way I had them, it was kinda too much of the same thing almost on each line,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. “I liked the way Nikolaj Ehlers was playing. I liked it an awful lot, so it certainly wasn’t a demotion.”
With Wheeler out of the lineup, Jansen Harkins played his first game since mid-February after 22 straight games as a healthy scratch. Harkins stepped in on the fourth line alongside Lewis and Nate Thompson. He had two shots on goal and one hit in a little under nine minutes of ice time.
“Harks brings a lot of speed,” said Lewis. “I’m pretty familiar playing with him from before and the start of camp and stuff. So, I thought he was good.”
Kyle Connor recorded a pair of assists in the victory. The Jets still haven’t lost a game when scoring more than three goals, now a perfect 8-0 on the season.
With one assist, Mark Scheifele moved past Dustin Byfuglien for 3rd all-time in franchise assists.
The Edmonton Oilers also won on Thursday to keep the Jets just a single point back for second place in the standings.
If you were hoping for a fast start, you came to the right place.
Carrying the puck into the offensive end, Mathieu Perreault dropped a backhand pass to a trailing Morrissey who fired a wrist shot off the post to give his club a 1-0 lead just 18 seconds into the game.
Something about being down a goal so quickly didn’t sit well with Phillip Danault as he buried a rebound for the Habs to even the game just 82 seconds later.
Lewis got his second goal of the year to put Winnipeg back on top just a few minutes later. Neal Pionk sent a perfect saucer pass to the front of the net to a streaking Lewis. Holding off Victor Mete’s defensive effort, Lewis redirected the puck with one hand on his stick, sneaking it past Jake Allen on just the fourth shot for the Jets.
Ehlers joined the party with his 16th of the season after Jeff Petry fumbled a bouncing puck giving Ehlers enough room to skate past the Habs defenceman before snapping it home over Allen’s left pad. Ehlers’ goal was the third for the Jets on just six shots. The Jets are 21-1-2 when scoring three goals, and they put three on the board before 15 minutes had passed.
The second period looked more like a possible playoff game with both teams trading chances as both teams took a few penalties.
In the middle of the second period, Logan Stanley took offence to Corey Perry crosschecking Dylan DeMelo in the numbers. Stanley wanted to get his second NHL fight under his belt, but after a brief conversation with Perry, both sat for two minutes for roughing after neither threw a punch in a fight that Perry clearly wanted no part of. Stanley has four inches and 20 pounds on the veteran winger, so don’t blame Perry for not wanting to deal with any overhead blows from the imposing defender.
Montreal kept their shot count well above the Jets for almost the entire game and as the second period wound down, the hometown glass rewarded the persistent Habs. Petry dumped the puck in hitting a stanchion forcing Hellebuyck to scramble back to the front of the net, but not before Byron grabbed the loose puck, bringing his team within one with the only goal in the middle frame.
The Habs kept Hellebuyck busy, but no direct shots were getting past the reigning Vezina winner so the home team adopted a new game plan for the final frame; collapse the Jets defence and crash the net.
Two minutes into the third, Perry danced his way to the front of the net but couldn’t get a shot off causing a swarm in front of Hellebuyck as everyone looked for the puck before the referee blew the whistle.
The Jets kept up the pressure, looking to add some insurance to their lead, and improve their promising 14-1-2 record when leading after two periods.
Andrew Copp nearly had his 13th of the year after getting a step on Montreal’s Joel Edmundson, but Allen didn’t bite on his deke, steering the puck into the corner to keep his team within one.
Montreal’s dangerous duo of Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin nearly knotted the game up midway through the third after Drouin toe-dragged a sliding Tucker Poolman and Anderson banged a loose puck just shy of the post.
They kept at it with the Perry – Suzuki – Toffoli line hemming the Jets into their own zone for more than a minute with a number of high-percentage chances.
Momentum took a drastic shift with just over four minutes to play when Suzuki’s stick caught Mason Appleton up high handing the Jets a man-advantage as they looked reclaim their two-goal advantage.
The second shot of the ensuing power-play was blasted off of Kyle Connor’s stick, hitting Allen in the mask snapping a strap to keep the faceoff in Montreal’s end. The Jets sent three shots at Allen, but nothing got past the netminder as the penalty came to an end and Allen headed for the bench.
With the net empty, Copp took a pass from Connor in the neutral zone and buried his 13th of the season to give the Jets a 4-2 win.
The Jets look for a repeat performance Saturday night against the Habs as they continue to battle for top spot in the North Division. The pregame show begins at 4 p.m. on 680 CJOB with the puck dropping shortly after 6 p.m.
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