WINNIPEG – After returning home from a dreadful and fruitless five-game road trip, the Winnipeg Jets have one man to thank for bringing the team back to life.
Connor Hellebuyck made 42 saves, including 21 in a third period barrage as the Jets got revenge and shut out the visiting Nashville Predators 3-0 in a Sunday afternoon affair.
It wasn’t pretty, but given the circumstances, the Jets will take two points any way they can.
“I don’t think anyone was hitting the panic button, we just needed to get back to our game and that’s what we did,” Hellebuyck explained after the win. “Now that we know how we need to play to win, I think we can continue forward and continue to get better.”
Drew Stafford got the game’s first goal on a wraparound late in the second frame. It was Stafford’s first goal of the year.
“To get back and at least start feeling like myself again, and not only that but to be able to contribute on the scoresheet is huge,” Stafford said. “We needed this.”
Nashville’s best opportunity to get even in the game came on a four-minute power play thanks to a Mark Stuart double-minor for high-sticking. That’s when Hellebuyck was at his strongest, holding down the fort as the Jets hung on for dear life.
“Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m in that groove,” Hellebuyck said. “I like the way I’ve been playing and although they scored five last game, I still liked the way I felt and not losing confidence.”
Mark Scheifele scored into an empty net with 41 seconds left to seal the deal, and for good measure Adam Lowry added another empty-netter with 9 seconds to go.
So after scoring just six goals on their disastrous five-game road trip, the Jets offensive woes weren’t exactly corrected. They were outplayed for most of the game, but unlike Friday, when Nashville went 3/4 on the power play, the Jets killed all five opportunities despite allowing 13 shots.
“We’re in the box too much. We make it hard on ourselves being in the box. We gotta watch our sticks and hopefully get a little bit of confidence back,” explained Blake Wheeler, who was +3 on the day. “I think confidence is a sneaky thing. It’s easier to lose it than to gain it back. We’re kind of at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to confidence so you gotta find a way to scratch and claw your way.”
The Jets also blocked a whopping 27 shots in the win, and it’s that kind of effort that head coach Paul Maurice says can help overcome an offence not firing on all cylinders.
“I don’t think things were smooth or easy with the puck, but usually when you get a really hard effort and real good goaltending, you’re going to give yourself a chance. We’ve struggled here, you know it’s there. You’ve got to win to feel good, and the benefit I’m hoping that we see from it is a little bit of confidence with the puck. We passed up some simple offence, trying to find a seam. We don’t need to do that. But the fight was there, the compete was there. Some pretty gritty effort.”
With the win the Jets are now 7-0 when leading after 40 minutes, while Hellebuyck has not allowed a goal at home in just over 132 minutes of game time.
The Jets will try to make it two straight wins Tuesday night against New Jersey.