The Winnipeg Jets beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 Thursday night, handing the North Division leaders from Toronto a third loss in a row to cut their lead for first place down to just three points.
The Jets scored three goals on three consecutive shots in the span of just three minutes in the first period, and never looked back.
“We grinded the whole game,” forward Mark Scheifele said. “We didn’t like our whole game, but we definitely answered the call when we needed to. That’s a big win to end a long, long, what feels like road trip.”
With the win, the Jets completed a stretch of 17 out of 22 games on the road. The Jets lead the NHL with 16 road victories.
Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor each notched a pair of goals, while Scheifele scored the other Jets’ marker.
Scheifele and Connor each had three-point nights.
Connor became just the seventh player in franchise history to record four straight 20-goal seasons.
Ehlers also recorded his 20th goal on Thursday for a fifth consecutive 20-goal campaign.
Both Ehlers and Scheifele are now riding six-game point streaks. Ehlers has nine points over that stretch, including five goals.
“We’re trying to get to that playoff style hockey, and it’s going the right way,” said Ehlers. “I think if we can continue the way that we are playing now – there is some things that need to be fixed. We can’t play a perfect game, and we’re trying to get as close to that as possible.”
Things didn’t look good for the Jets early in the hockey game. The Leafs took an early one-goal lead and the Jets soon found themselves with two men in the penalty box, but they killed off the 5-on-3 to weather the storm.
“That first goal against, they know, right,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “Mark (Scheifele) turns one over inside the line, and then we get beat on a rush.
“I think they just got angry, and then the killers went out. The key to our game tonight was our penalty kill. That was the change in momentum that got us emotionally engaged in the game. We fed off that, and then had the quick strikes right after that.”
The Jets made a change on their blueline for the first time in a month. Logan Stanley was taken out of the lineup for Ville Heinola. It was just his second NHL game of the season and first since January. He last suited up for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose on March 13.
He finished the game a minus-1, with one hit, one shot, and two blocks in 12:34 of ice time.
“I think it was good and solid for me,” Heinola said. “I was one month without playing, so it was kinda hard, hard to go in. But I just tried to do the simple things first. Get that good first pass, and try to battle hard. I think it was an okay game.”
After getting the night off the day before, Connor Hellebuyck stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced.
Andrew Copp appeared in his 400th career NHL contest.
The Jets finished the five-game road trip with a 4-1 record with captain Blake Wheeler back home recovering from a concussion.
The Leafs were missing the league’s leading goal scorer Auston Matthews, who is listed as day-to-day and William Nylander, who is still in COVID-19 protocol.
There was some confusion about the first goal of the game, but ultimately Maple Leafs journeyman Alex Galchenyuk got credit for the first goal. The goal had shades of Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup winner against Philadelphia in 2010 as only a couple players on the ice actually knew the puck went in.
The cross-ice feed from Mitch Marner and a textbook re-direction had to be slowed down and reviewed to determine the puck indeed snuck past Hellebuyck’s right shoulder and came right back out as play continued.
The Jets had gone all year without giving up a two-man advantage and Thursday was the second game in a row two men sat in the box at the same time.
But some strong penalty killing kept all of Toronto’s shots to the outside and arguably Winnipeg’s strongest penalty killer Derek Forbort broke up a number of passes and blocked a few shots minimizing any danger.
Former Jet Zach Bogosian took an interference penalty just over 10 minutes into the first period opening the door to a flurry of scoring chances for his old team.
The entire North Division has struggled to figure out how to beat Maple Leafs netminder Jack Campbell, but Ehlers’ wrist shot from the top of the circle found the back of the net just nine seconds into the Jets’ first power-play of the night. Before the Maple Leafs announcer could report the first goal, Connor took a pass from Scheifele and ripped home his 20th of the year. In a span of 30 seconds, the Jets flipped the script scoring on two consecutive shots to grab a 2-1 lead. And they weren’t done just yet.
Clearly taking shots was an effective strategy for the Jets and Scheifele joined the fun, getting a step on the defence, and coming in all alone on Campbell. A nice deke made for an easy tuck for Scheifele’s 17th of the year, spelling the end of the night for the goaltender nicknamed “Soupy”.
Newly-acquired goaltender David Rittich relieved Campbell who surrendered three goals on three consecutive shots in 3:09.
The Leafs came into the second period with a clear sense of urgency, pressuring the Jets right from the outset. Strong defensive plays and active sticks from the Jets kept the offensive pressure at bay, but Toronto kept pushing and veteran forward Jason Spezza grabbed a dump-in and whipped it to the front of the net for a waiting John Tavares, bringing the Leafs within one midway through the middle frame.
Ehlers and Connor continue to vie for the team lead in goals and a strong forecheck rewarded the Dane with his 20th of the year and second of the game. Ehlers used a burst of speed to not only catch up to Mitch Marner but also pick his pocket, poking a loose puck towards Rittich. The Leafs goaltender opted to try and clear the puck instead of rushing out to cover it, a costly decision as Ehlers poked the puck through Rittich’s legs, giving the Jets a two-goal lead.
Toronto finally pulled Rittich after the goaltender had to race back to the net as the Maple Leafs were looking for an extra attacker. The late push by the Leafs ended abruptly after a battle in front of Hellebuyck led to Zach Hyman getting his stick up high on Neal Pionk as they fought for position in front.
On the ensuing power play, Connor added some insurance sending his 21st goal of the season into the empty net.
The Jets are going to get much more familiar with the other top teams in the North Division as their next six games are against the Maple Leafs and the Oilers.
The Jets are back home Saturday night to kick off a six-game homestand and you can hear the Jets take on the Oilers at 9 p.m. with pre-game coverage starting at 7 p.m. on 680 CJOB.
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