The Winnipeg Jets may have lost their pre-season opener, but at least the fans were allowed in to witness it.
The general public returned to the newly named Canada Life Centre for the first time since March of 2020 to see the Jets surrender a third period lead in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Alex Formenton notched the equalizer with seven minutes remaining, and Shane Pinto scored just 25 seconds into the extra frame to give the Sens the comeback win.
Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois got a mouth full of stitches after being cross-checked in the face in the second period, but he was still excited to play in front of a crowd again.
“It hurts to smile right now, but I would if I could,” said Dubois. “I’m not in the greatest mood right now, but having the fans there obviously helped a lot. Probably getting back out there after 15 stitches without any fans would have been a little harder, for the motivation side of it in pre-season, but having fans out there was great. I had goose bumps going out on the ice.”
For all the players and even the head coach, it felt like a normal game again for the first time in more than 18 months.
“Smell the popcorn when you walk out to the bench,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “Then it just feels like it’s so much better than it was even almost in the playoffs. It’s an exhibition game, so there’s not anywhere near the intensity of it, but having people in the building is fantastic.”
Dubois scored the Jets’ first goal, while CJ Suess had the other marker in the loss.
“There was some good things,” said Maurice. “You just don’t weight these games too heavily, right. There’s big chunks of that, both teams wouldn’t necessarily be starting in an NHL game, and lots of erratic play maybe in terms of the puck, and the transition of the puck and some things that happen, but yeah, it was a good start.”
Ridly Greig accounted for the only other goal for Ottawa.
“Obvious signs of first game back in awhile,” said Dubois. “I think pre-season, the important thing is getting better and better every game. You’ll never start the pre-season feeling 100 percent.”
Eric Comrie played the entire game for the Jets in goal and made 24 stops.
“It’s been awhile,” said Comrie. “It’s definitely fun to get back out there and get back to playing hockey games. It definitely feels weird. I haven’t played a ton of games in a long time here. Feels nice to get back out there and get a little rust off and just build off that.”
Anton Forsberg played the first half of the game for Ottawa and allowed two goals on 19 shots. Filip Gustavsson finished the contest by stopping all 14 shots he faced.
There was a bit of a scare for the Jets midway through the first period. Senators forward Shane Pinto landed on Nikolaj Ehlers during a puck battle in the neural zone. Ehlers stayed down on the ice and eventually skated off slowly while hunched over. But Ehlers returned to the game just a short time later.
The Sens opened the scoring just over 11 minutes into the game during 4-on-4 hockey. Brandon Wheat Kings forward Ridly Greig took the pass at the blueline and turned Ville Heinola inside-out before roofing the backhand on Comrie. The 19-year-old Greig played 21 games for the Wheat Kings earlier in the year before finishing the season with the AHL’s Belleville Senators.
But the Jets answered back in the period’s final minute. Just as the first penalty of a 5-on-3 power play expired, Dubois went between the legs to Jansen Harkins. Harkins fed it right back and Dubois shoveled the puck past Anton Forsberg. And the game was tied 1-1 after 20 minutes.
After a goal late in the first, the Jets struck again early in the second frame. Suess came off the wing, and from just inside the top of the circle, snapped the shot top corner on Forsberg. Dillon and Neal Pionk had the assists as the Jets took their first lead.
Shortly afterwards, Luke Johnson and Dillon Heatherington dropped the mitts for a scrap. Johnson lost his helmet almost immediately and was wrestled down to the ice by Heatherington to end a short fight.
Just past the midway point of the period, Greig caught Dubois with a cross-check right in his face. Dubois went to the dressing room holding his mouth, while Greig was ejected with a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct. But the Sens managed to kill off the five-minute penalty.
“I don’t think it was a dirty play,” said Dubois. “I think he just got scared, threw his stick up. He saw me coming and he just threw his stick up to defend himself, which is obviously against the rules, for an obvious reason here, but it is what it is.”
It was a mostly uneventful start to the final frame, but with just under nine minutes remaining, Logan Stanley fought Austin Watson in the game’s second bout.
With just under eight minutes left to play, Andrew Agozzino spotted a streaking Alex Formenton, and he rippled the mesh behind Comrie for the equalizer.
They had barely dropped the puck in overtime and Pinto was circling the net before firing the game winner past Comrie.
They did a shootout anyway just for practice and the Sens won that as well, outscoring Winnipeg 2-1.
The Jets will play their second of six pre-season contests on Wednesday at home to the Edmonton Oilers.
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