Jets playoff bound
Hellebuyck stands tall and things get nasty against Wild as Jets secure post-season berth
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Being a fan of the Winnipeg Jets this season has certainly not been for the faint of heart. After a nailing-biting affair in the State of Hockey Tuesday night, the Jets are officially playoff bound.
The Jets entered the game against Central Division rival Minnesota Wild needing just one point to clinch the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. They would leave with two, earning a 3-1 road victory to punch their ticket to the post-season for the sixth time since relocating from Atlanta for the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
“Give credit to every guy in this room. We battled hard the last little while to get back to being in the playoffs,” Mark Scheifele said. “Obviously, we wish we would have stayed at the top, but that happens. Everything happens for a reason, and we just have to trust in that plan.”
The Jets improved to 46-32-3 with the win, the victory following up a successful five-game home stand during which the Jets went 4-1. The Wild dropped to 46-25-10 with the loss.
Connor Hellebuyck finished the night stopping 33 of 34 shots, while Marc-Andre Fleury countered with 17 saves.
Let’s dig deeper into this one.
1 It was as good a start as the Jets could have hoped for, at least when it came to the scoreboard, as the visitors were outshot 12-4 through the opening period but headed into the locker room with a 2-0 lead.
Adam Lowry got things started, taking full advantage of a blocked shot in front for his 13th of the season, and Scheifele cleaned up a loose puck at the side of the net 10 minutes later for his team-leading 42nd of the year.
The Jets certainly did their best to give a goal or two back thanks to some incredibly undisciplined play to start this game. Blake Wheeler was caught for a lazy hook on a backcheck, Dylan DeMelo got called for roughing after he punched Ryan Hartman’s helmet off his head and, with DeMelo sitting in the penalty box, Saku Maenalanen was flagged for a high-stick, putting the Wild on a 5-on-3 for nearly a minute.
A strong penalty kill – one of the few areas the Jets have been consistent at all season – kept the Wild at bay, along with the stellar play of Hellebuyck in net. That would be a theme the rest of the night, as Hellebuyck once again stole the show.
“The saves he made down the stretch were amazing,” added Scheifele. “We sat back a little too much and gave them way too much respect and way too much room to make plays. But he won that game for us.”
2 The second period was far less eventful, resulting in a goalless 20 minutes, though it was the Jets turn to take a shot on the power play.
It’s a unit that has been struggling for much of the season, particularly over the last half, but had found some life of late, with goals in three of the last four games, including going a perfect two-for-two in a win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday. If that was a step forward, then the second period felt like two steps back, as the Jets couldn’t muster anything close to a notable attack in four minutes of power-play time.
The Jets did generate more towards the net, outshooting the Wild 10-4 in the period, but nothing felt overly dangerous. The Wild didn’t look all that threatening, either, but did have the better opportunities, with Hellebuyck coming up big on a breakaway by Marcus Johansson and then flashing the left pad to stop a chance in close by Mats Zuccarello.
Xcel Energy Center is among the rowdiest barns in the NHL, so the Jets deserved credit for keeping a usually raucous crowd mostly in check. In fact, the Wild were booed off the ice as they made their way to the dressing room for the second intermission.
3 To call the start of the third period a wild ride would be as gross an understatement as it is a bad pun. Minnesota looked like a different team to start the frame, and instantly started taking it to the Jets.
Before the period was a minute over, the Wild were living in Hellebuyck’s crease, with seemingly all five Minnesota players occupying the blue paint. Hellebuyck stood tall for as long as he could and was helped by the post following a glorious chance by Connor Dewar.
The scrum led to Lowry taking a penalty and the chaos only continued from there, with the Wild hitting another pair of posts before Kirill Kaprizov scored his 40th of the year to make it a one-goal game. Suddenly, the crowd was alive and the Wild had life.
Just when it seemed like the wheels were about to fall off, the Jets dug deep and found a way to carve out a critical win, including another impressive showing by Hellebuyck. Mason Appleton’s goal gave the Jets a nice cushion, but the bad blood kept flowing.
The final seconds of the game took several minutes, with tempers boiling over and fists flying. Lowry dropped the gloves with Ryan Reaves, the scrap ending with a Lowry takedown.
“They got really dirty. We were playing hard. I guess they were playing hard too, but they were getting a little unnecessary,” said Hellebuyck. “Maybe the refs let it get a little out of control. That’s playoff hockey right there. That’s it.”
4 In the midst of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, which began Monday night in Chicago, the Wild opted to dress a watered-down lineup against the lowly Blackhawks in preparation of playing Winnipeg.
They scratched defenceman Matt Dumba prior to puck drop and kept No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the bench, while also keeping first-line wingers Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, along with their two best defencemen in Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin, back home in Minnesota.
Simply put, the Wild did their best to stack the deck against Winnipeg and it didn’t work. That made the win even more impressive. It was also the first win against the Wild this season after suffering losses in the first three meetings and being outscored 14-4.
5 The victory means the Jets can use the regular-season finale against the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night in Denver however they see fit.
It’s unclear how head coach Rick Bowness plans to exactly construct his roster against the Avalanche, but it would only make sense to give the night off to a few players, especially those who might be dealing with various bumps and bruises.
It would also be prudent that Bowness give Hellebuyck a break, considering he just finished his league-leading 64th start, including 13 straight. Backup David Rittich isn’t likely to be leaned on in the playoffs for any extended amount of time, but he hasn’t played a game in nearly a month (a 5-3 loss to Carolina back on Mar. 14). It would serve both Rittich and the Jets to have him knock off some of the rust before the playoffs begin next week.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Tuesday, April 11, 2023 11:11 PM CDT: Adds photos