VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Winnipeg Jets’ winning streak has been halted at five.
Rallying back from a 2-0 deficit, the Vancouver Canucks scored five unanswered – including three in the final 10 minutes of the second period and a pair into the empty net – en route to a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena.
Jiri Tlusty and Blake Wheeler scored for the Jets, while Michael Hutchinson – making his first start since Mar. 12 at Florida – made 25 saves on 28 shots.
With the loss, the Jets fall to 38-24-12 and remain with 88 points, two up on the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Wild Card. The Kings and Minnesota Wild (three points up on the Jets) both won earlier tonight.
“We gave them what we had. We do it all the time,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said, reflecting on the difficulty of the back-to-back situation.
“The fight has always been there. Tough loss, but we’ll park it here and go back at the next one.”
“We played a pretty good first half, but they came at us and capitalized on a few chances,” Tlusty said. “In the third period, they played with the lead and didn’t give us anything in the neutral zone. … We had a few good scoring chances in the third, but unfortunately we didn’t capitalize on them.”
Moments after Mark Scheifele was turned aside on a breakaway, the Jets took a 1-0 lead at 2:17 as Tlusty recorded his first as a Jet. The beneficiary of a beautiful feed from Eric O’Dell, No. 91 snapped a quick shot five-hole on Eddie Lack, giving the visitors the early advantage with a 33-foot wrister.
“(The goal) feels good, but I’d trade it for two points,” Tlusty said.
With the teams combining for 10 shots in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game, Hutchinson was a busy man early on. His best came hot off the stick of Nick Bonino, who was staring down the yawning four-by-six, but the rookie came up with a spectacular save, stretching out to deny to the gifted Canuck with the spine of his skate blade.
Hutchinson finished the period with 12 saves, while at the other end, Lack stopped nine of the 10 thrown his way.
The Jets extended to a 2-0 advantage at 5:07 of the second period. Finishing off a dominant shift, cycling the puck for nearly a minute down deep in Canucks territory, Wheeler – donning a full-face cage reminiscent of his days with the University of Minnesota – shovelled home a loose puck following a Drew Stafford wraparound, collecting his 23rd of the year.
With an assist, Stafford extended his point streak to seven games (4G, 5A). He now has seven goals and 15 points in 17 games since being acquired from Buffalo on Feb. 11.
Then, the tide turned. The Canucks scored a trey in 8:03 to seize control.
Despite a dominant front half of the middle frame by the Jets, the Canucks cut the deficit to one with a Chris Higgins goal at 10:57. Finding an inch under the arm of Hutchinson, Higgins converted a cross-ice pass from Bonino for the all-important tally. “I got a read on it, but it went off the defenceman’s stick and changed direction on me,” Hutchinson said.
The Canucks brought the game back on even terms not long after. With Tlusty off serving a slashing penalty, Yannick Weber blasted a one-time shot past Hutchinson at 16:29. Two-and-a-half minutes later, the Jets found themselves trailing for the first time as Radim Vrbata capitalized on a turnover, bulling his way to the net before heaving a shot around the sprawling efforts of the goaltender.
“He had a lot of time. When he came in, he froze me,” Hutchinson said. “Being a right-handed shot coming out of that corner, he could have slid one five-hole, so I had to respect that. I tried to out-wait him, hoping he wouldn’t realize how much time he had, but he did and got it up and over me. It was a good play by him.
“Other than that (10-minute stretch), I thought we took it to them.”
“He played like he always does for us. He gives a chance to win,” Maurice said of his goaltender.
Shots on goal favoured the Canucks 24-22 after 40 minutes of play.
“It was a hard, grinding game after that,” Maurice said. “It was hard to get pucks to the net and there wasn’t a lot going on.”
Tough sledding, indeed.
The Jets poured it on with the goaltender out, but Lack stood tall. Among many, his best save came with just over a minute to play, robbing Scheifele with a beautiful glove save to preserve the one-goal lead before Henrik Sedin, followed by Vrbata, added the empty-netters.
The Jets are back in action on Thursday night back at home against the Montreal Canadiens.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com