WINNIPEG – Look out, Central division. These Winnipeg Jets could be for real.
After clinging to a narrow lead through the first two frames, the Jets seized full control in the final period, setting MTS Centre ablaze in a 4-0 win over the previously red-hot Chicago Blackhawks.
The visitors came in having not lost in regulation in their last 11 games, but they did not have their ‘A’ game Tuesday night, and the Jets served notice that they are not to be taken lightly this season.
Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 27 shots he faced, proving that he has a firm grasp on the #1 goaltending spot.
“I’ve been chasing it for a while, and now I’ve got the monkey off my back,” Hellebuyck said about getting the shutout. “The team played incredible in front of me. We didn’t back down. We didn’t give them one bit of momentum. When a team can do that, I think there’s something special there.”
Josh Morrissey opened the scoring 6:26 into the game on a one-timer that just snuck through Corey Crawford for his first career NHL goal.
“To finally be able to get that, to see it go in was something special. It’s starting to sink in a little bit now that the game is over,” Morrissey gushed. “During the game, obviously it’s an exciting moment, but then you’re back and playing right away. But now it’s sinking in and it’s pretty special.”
The Blackhawks controlled play for most of the opening frame and the second, including a 5-on-3 for over a minute. But the Jets killed it off, and the Blackhawks never truly got another good chance.
Fan favourite Chris Thorburn got his first of the season early in the third, sending a shot on goal from the side boards that caught Crawford off guard.
Four minutes later, Dustin Byfuglien drove to the net and was stopped, but Patrik Laine cleaned up the rebound for his league-leading 12th of the season.
Just nine seconds later, as Laine’s goal was being announced, Nic Petan scored his first of the season to make it 4-0 and send the MTS Centre into delirium. It also chased Crawford, who came in with the fifth-best GAA in the NHL but was clearly outplayed by Hellebuyck.
“I was just committed to getting it towards the net, and it found a way to go in,” Thorburn said about his goal. “Playing against a team like that, you know it’s going to take a solid effort from everybody. It builds confident, but it’s early. We’ll take our two points, but we know where we can improve and hopefully we can do that throughout the course of the year.”
Nine different Jets registered a point on the night, including Mark Scheifele picking up an assist to remain tied for the league lead in points. But the depth of the group is really starting to show, despite all the injuries they’ve been saddled with.
“I think that everybody on our bench feels that they’re important, and they don’t go on the ice just to hold water, and to get through the shift. They understand that they are all impact players in how we use them,” explained head coach Paul Maurice. “That is more like what they’re used to. Nic Petan, certainly through World Juniors, his junior experience and when he was with the Moose, they don’t win if he doesn’t play well. Now, based on the minutes, playing with Blake Wheeler, Marko Dano as well, they know that they’re critical to our success and they play like it.”
This was the final game before opening a five-game road trip Thursday night in Philadelphia. Maurice’s advice to his squad before heading off?
“Pack lots of underwear.”