WINNIPEG – These Winnipeg Jets are nothing if not entertaining.
Donning their beautiful Heritage Classic jerseys, the team took their fans on an emotional roller coaster ride, a play in three acts, as the Jets emerged with a 5-4 win over the imploding Minnesota Wild Sunday afternoon.
Act 1: Jubilation saw the Jets burst out of the gates against a Wild team that had completely lost their way. Andrew Copp opened the scoring less than four minutes in, Adam Lowry made it 2-0 less than two minutes later, and the visitors were forced to call timeout as the roof was ready to blow off the MTS Centre.
Late in the period the offensively-challenged Ben Chiarot charged to the net and got a lucky bounce to beat a reeling Devan Dubnyk, putting the home team up 3-0. Dustin Byfuglien made it four goals on eight shots early in the second, yet Dubnyk was surprisingly left in the game.
Thus begins Act 2: Tragedy. The Wild seemed to snap their fingers and remember that they were supposed to be the Stanley Cup contender, and they absolutely poured the pressure on the Jets.
Charlie Coyle made it 4-1, Mikael Granlund cut the lead in half on the power play, Chris Stewart made it 4-3 just 39 seconds later, and then Stewart tied it with 13 seconds left in the period on a goal that would best be described as stinky, sliding on the ice under the right pad of Connor Hellebuyck.
The last goal felt overwhelmingly inevitable as the Jets hardly looked like an NHL team for the back half of the second, getting outshot 22-5 in the frame.
Enter Act 3: Redemption and Reward. Michael Hutchinson started the period in goal, relieving the goalie who had started the last 16 games for the Jets. Winnipeg collected themselves in the intermission and played a steady period before Josh Morrissey’s one-timer went off the post and in to give the Jets the lead with seven minutes to go.
But there would be no smooth cruise to the finish line. A Byfuglien penalty led to two minutes of furious 6-on-4 pressure but Hutchinson held down the fort and the Jets managed to secure two points. Perhaps more importantly, they showed they could rebound from an absolutely dreadful stretch of hockey and finish off a game.
“When you look at the things that have been thrown our way this year, tonight we’re missing some of our top D. We have guys that are playing increased minutes, guys stepping up, you’re blowing leads but finding ways to win games,” Lowry explained. “That’s important for the future moving forward. Good teams find ways to win. It wasn’t the prettiest win but we were able to find a way.”
Hutchinson was credited with his first win since December 22, making 13 saves in the final period. After the game head coach Paul Maurice explained why he made the switch between the pipes.
“I felt we needed a bit of a mental break and a mental change. Sometimes changing the goalie will do that for you.”
It seemed fitting that, in a game where the Jets were rolling with a blue line that was duck taped together, a defenceman would get the deciding goal. Morrissey was playing the left side with newcomer Brian Strait, who set up Morrissey’s winner.
“We had a couple D-to-D’s earlier in the period and me being a lefty, if I catch it on my backhand, obviously I’m not scoring from there,” Morrissey explained. “We talked about it on the bench, about me sliding over more towards the middle so it’s a closer pass and an easier one-timer. I think our very next shift was the goal. Not too many times you talk about those things and then it actually ends up working right away.”
It helped the Jets cause that the Wild are taking a nosedive at the worst possible time: since their 6-5 win at MTS Centre February 28, Minnesota is 2-8 and will almost certainly finish second in the Central.
Winnipeg is in spoiler mode now but their next contest won’t be against a playoff team: they have the also-ran Flyers Tuesday night.