In their final home game of the regular season Monday night, the Winnipeg Jets did all they could to ensure there would be at least two more coming later this month, downing the San Jose Sharks 6-2 to move to the precipice of a playoff spot.
The Jets had six different goal scorers, while seven players had multi-point efforts as the Jets picked up another clutch victory to close out the home portion of their schedule.
Winnipeg has a two-point lead over the Calgary Flames for the final playoff spot, but can only be caught by the Nashville Predators who are three points behind, following a 3-2 shootout win over Calgary Monday night. Nashville has two games remaining, while the Flames have one and can only finish tied with the Jets, but do not own the tiebreaker.
The Jets allowed a goal with the game only 20 seconds old, but answered back less than a minute later, and scored two more times in the first, before adding three more goals in the final frame.
“There’s 59 minutes and 40 seconds left,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey. “I don’t think there was really much of a letdown or anything like that. We know we’re playing great hockey right now, and we’re a confident team, and just got back on the horse.”
Winnipeg beat San Jose for the first time this season after the Sharks won their first two matchups.
The Jets appear to be peaking at the perfect time as they won for the fourth time in their last five games.
“Six different goal scorers,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “Helly (Connor Hellebuyck) was good when we needed him to be. The power play the last three games has looked really good. We haven’t scored in those last three games. It’s looked a lot better than it had earlier. So it was nice to see the power play get a couple tonight.”
It was a perfect night for the Jets power play unit scoring twice on just two chances with the man advantage.
“I think we’re playing free,” said Morrissey. “We’re playing aggressive, and confident, and on our toes and that’s what makes us a great hockey team.”
The Jets now need only one more point from their final two games to clinch a playoff spot.
“I think we’re playing with freedom since we got back off the road,” said Morrissey. “For this entire homestand we got some nice rest which was awesome after a tough stretch of road hockey.
“I think there’s been a lot of noise around our team, what not, and probably rightfully so at some points in time. But for us, we looked at like, hey, we’ve got an opportunity here. We’ve got five games at home and then a big two road games to try and get our way into the playoffs.”
Morrissey had a goal and two assists for his 20th multi-point game to set a new franchise record for multi-point games by a defenceman in a season.
“He’s having an incredible season,” said Bowness. “Listen, there’s a lot of talent in that young man. His skating, his puck ability, his hockey IQ, there’s a ton of talent and we’re seeing it now, how good a hockey player he is.”
It was also a milestone night for Morrissey who appeared in his 500th career NHL game. It was also the 100th game of Morgan Barron’s career.
The night got off to a rough start for the home side when the Sharks took the opening faceoff, rushed into the Winnipeg end, and a nice passing play led to Erik Karlsson beating Hellebuyck from close range just 20 seconds into the contest.
That goal gave Karlsson 99 points on the season.
In dire need of a quick response, the Jets earned a power play just 17 seconds after the opening goal, and their slumping power play came up large.
Mark Scheifele found Pierre-Luc Dubois in front of the net and he made no mistake, beating James Reimer for his 27th of the season to square the game at the 1:11 mark.
From there, the Jets dominated the opening frame.
Adam Lowry made it 2-1 at the 7:14 mark after Nino Niederreiter whiffed on a wraparound chance. He sent it across the crease in front of a yawning cage with Reimer out of position, but Lowry was there to tap it home.
Kyle Connor got in on the action at the 14:26 mark when he got free in front of the net and deflected a Dylan DeMelo point shot through Reimer to make it 3-1.
Winnipeg held a 14-5 edge in shots on goal and dominated possession stats through 20 minutes.
The Jets continued to pour pressure on the Sharks but Reimer stood tall in the middle frame, harkening back to the performances he had against Winnipeg in March when he stopped 77 of 79 shots in a pair of San Jose wins.
The Sharks earned their first power play of the game with just over seven minutes left in the period but the Jets penalty kill took care of business as it stayed a 3-1 game after 40 minutes.
Shots in the second period were 10-8 in favour of the Jets for a two-period edge of 24-14.
Any thought of a Sharks comeback seemed to be erased early in the third when Mason Appleton made it 4-1, burying a juicy rebound past Reimer just 16 seconds into the frame.
But San Jose cut the lead to two on the power play a few minutes later when Karlsson beat Hellebuyck through a screen, becoming the first defenceman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92 to record 100 points in a season.
The Jets pushed the lead back to three just over two minutes later when Josh Morrissey wired one past a screened Reimer, and less than two minutes later, the power play struck again for Winnipeg.
Connor whipped a perfect cross-ice pass to Scheifele, who buried it for his 41st of the season and putting the game away for good at the 7:35 mark.
With the win, the Jets improve to 93 points with two games remaining. Regardless of what the Predators and Flames do in their final games, if Winnipeg secures just one more point, they will be going to the playoffs.
They can accomplish that as early as Tuesday night in Minnesota. Pregame coverage on 680 CJOB begins at 5 p.m. with puck drop just after 7 p.m.
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