WINNIPEG – It had all the makings of an epic comeback, the kind of win that could jumpstart the Winnipeg Jets into a homestretch playoff push.
At one point trailing Minnesota 5-2, the Jets rallied to tie the game and had two late power plays to try and take the lead.
But as had happened time and again this night and this season, a defensive zone mistake led to the clinching goal in a 6-5 loss to the Wild.
Just as a Minnesota penalty was expiring, Erik Haula carried the puck into the Jets’ zone, and two Winnipeg players converged on him. They failed to notice Jason Zucker fly off the bench untouched into the slot, and he beat Michael Hutchinson five-hole off a pass from Haula for the winner with 2:10 to go.
“Every game matters so much now. To lose it in the last two minutes is tough,” explained Mark Scheifele, who had a goal and two assists.
“It’s not always fair in this league, I guess. I wouldn’t say we grossly outplayed them and deserved a better fate,” added Blake Wheeler. “I think you gotta take some positives out of the fact we battled back from a couple deficits. We would have liked to at least get that into overtime.”
Winnipeg came out of the gates flying, as Patrik Laine opened the scoring just 62 seconds in. His 31st goal put him back into the rookie scoring lead.
But the early high would be short-lived, as Mikael Granlund tied it just two minutes later. The Finn was everywhere in the first, setting up Tyler Graovac on a fantastic effort from his stomach and assisting on a Haula power play goal late in the third after Paul Postma took a five-minute boarding penalty.
Down 4-1 in the second, Adam Lowry’s 11th gave the Jets some scant hope, though less than four minutes later Ryan White made it 5-2 to chase Connor Hellebuyck from the game. Mathieu Perreault’s 7th gave Winnipeg some life again heading into the third.
The Jets dominated the third period, as the Wild seemed to be running out of gas coming off an overtime win the night before. Joel Armia scored shorthanded 5-4, his shot wide of the net bouncing off the glass, over the net, and off the back of Darcy Kuemper into the goal.
Less than two minutes later, Scheifele blew the roof off the building with a sharp wrister to tie the game. Anecdotally, it was the loudest the MTS Centre had been in months.
Devan Dubnyk would come in for the Wild to stop the bleeding, and he wouldn’t allow anything past him over the final minutes. The Jets really didn’t get any clean looks on their two late power plays, nor with their net empty.
“Our seasons on the line, we gotta win games. It’s just brutal,” Perreault rued. “Very disappointing, you have the chance to win the game and instead they score. It just sucks.”
The Jets can ponder their missed offensive chances all they want, but the reality is five goals should be enough to win in the NHL. Winnipeg had a lot of trouble getting pucks out of their own end and left Wild players uncovered in dangerous spots on a number of occasions.
“We turned the pucks over. It wasn’t a matter of them getting it and rattling it around on us. We had it, we gave it to them, and they put it quickly into the back of our net, explained Paul Maurice. “There’s two or three glaring areas defensively. Penalty kill is one of them, save percentage is one of them, and chances against is another one. We gotta get better.”
Hellebuyck made 16 saves in giving way to Michael Hutchinson, who saw his first game action since January 16. He allowed the winning goal on just seven shots.
To a man, the Jets wouldn’t say their recent bye week had anything to do with the loss, though they became the latest example in the trend of teams losing their first game back from their week off.
And it’s not like they can get the taste of this loss out of their mouth quickly, having to wait until Friday to play again. They’ll host the Blues in the start of a stretch of three games in four days.