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Connor scores twice as Jets double up Maple Leafs

"I think our game's right and we can draw from that confidence." -Connor

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - It's safe to say the Winnipeg Jets have a good feeling in their room heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not only did they earn their 30th victory in a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs to close out the regular season schedule, but the Jets also seem to have found their offensive stride at the right time.

Friday's win over Toronto is a perfect example.

Kyle Connor scored twice and now has a three-game goal scoring streak heading into the postseason. His line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler combined for six points on Friday and have accumulated 15 points in the last two games.

Fifteen.

"It's always good for confidence," said Connor. "Everybody loves to score. It helps in that sense. It's pretty nice to try hit the ground running after going through that little stretch. I think our game's right and we can draw from that confidence and hopefully carry this over."

Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins also found the back of the net for the Jets. Harkins' empty-netter was his first of the season, while Appleton's second period goal gives him a career high 12 goals on the season.

He also has goals in three of his last four.

Video: POSTGAME | Mason Appleton

More momentum.

"It makes you feel good," said Appleton. "Throughout the course of a season you have ups and downs - you score in bunches and then you get cold for a while and start second guessing things. But it feels good to finally find myself on the scoresheet late in the season and it give you a little extra boost of confidence heading into the playoffs."

On top of all this, Connor Hellebuyck made 34 saves as the Jets improved to 30-23-3. What's more important to Jets head coach Paul Maurice is the fact the team has rallied together after a seven-game losing streak to win three of the last five games.

"It's easy to say everybody loves each other when you're rolling, but we went through a real tough time here. And I think came out closer and with more excitement about our game," Maurice said. "And the idea that we couldn't just get back to where we were, but we could be a whole lot better team here. So we're going into these with wide-open eyes, excited about what's going to happen and kind of looking at figuring out how good we really can be."

The opening goal came 7:15 into the first, as Toronto's Pierre Engvall used his speed to get ahead of a back checking Pierre-Luc Dubois and gain separation. Quickly, Engvall sent a wrist shot on goal, beating Connor Hellebuyck through the legs for his seventh goal of the season.

Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice 

It was a tough night for Dubois, whose night ended in the third period when he was struck in the face. Paul Stastny also suffered an injury on his first shift, came back for a power play and for the majority of the second period, before not playing a shift in the third.

"They're both going to be fine, we believe. Precautionary to say the least," Maurice said. "We just didn't want it to get worse. Nobody on the bench got to stay if they had anything. I don't know if they're going to practice two days from now but they'll practice before they play, they will be in the opening night lineup." 

Even with a couple players banged up, the Jets didn't let up.

Just 1:13 into the second Adam Lowry's stick forced a turnover of a Morgan Rielly outlet pass. Dominic Toninato corralled the puck in the left circle and quickly sent it in front to Mason Appleton, who beat Jack Campbell over the glove.

Video: TOR@WPG: Connor rips a one-timer into the top corner

Appleton's 12th of the campaign tied the game at one, and gave Toninato his first point as a member of the Jets.

"He's a really good player. I think he took advantage of his opportunity and really seized it," Appleton said of Toninato. "He plays such a simple game that he's easy to read off of and when you're playing simple that means you're playing fast. He's got a good stick and he works really hard and he's a beast down low with the puck."

The tie lasted just over four minutes, as Ilya Mikheyev was able to pounce on a rebound off a Jake Muzzin shot in front of Hellebuyck to restore the Toronto lead at 2-1.

The Jets responded yet again, though. This time, it was Connor netting his 25th of the season, as he finished off a two-on-one play with Mark Scheifele style, sliding to his backhand against the flow of play to beat Campbell.

Scheifele picked up the assist, extending his point streak to five games. 

"I think we're playing at the same speed. We're kind of all on the same page," said Wheeler, who picked up the secondary assist on the goal. "I think we're jumping into holes at the right times and we're being responsible in terms of reloading and backchecking and we're creating a lot of loose pucks and a lot of turnovers and able to get some rushes going the other way."

Video: TOR@WPG: Connor buries a nifty goal on the backhand

That one goal wasn't enough for Connor though, as he gave the Jets the lead 4:21 into the third.

He posted up in the right circle and hammered a pass from Wheeler high short side on Campbell to make it 3-2 Winnipeg with his 26th of the season with 15:39 to go in regulation.

"They're playing the game the right way and then also they're playing really fast," said Maurice of his top line. "So each one of them as an individual is starting to peak, it looks like, and then you put the three of them together and they understand each other, you start to get that synergy that would make them greater than individuals. They're pretty good right now at both ends of the rink and they're starting to peak."

Winnipeg was outshot 14-4 in the final 20 minutes, but Hellebuyck shut the door so that Harkins could add the insurance marker with 52 seconds left.

Video: TOR@WPG: Appleton rips a shot into the top of the net

Sure, both line-ups weren't at full power. Toronto didn't have leading point getter Mitch Marner in the game, while the Jets were without Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp in addition to losing Stastny and Dubois during the night.

Still, this win means something.

"The overriding feeling after tonight is just excitement, excited about having an opportunity to compete in the playoffs," said Wheeler. "That's all you play for, you play for a chance to play in the playoffs, one of 16 teams that has a chance to win it all and nobody picked us to be alive right now so we have a lot to be proud of for the way we competed in the regular season and a lot to look forward to."

Now, the Jets set their sights on Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers, which comes in just four days.

"I don't think many guys are picking us. We lost seven of nine to the Oilers. We're going to make adjustments," said Connor. "we're playing the best hockey we have all season. We're pretty confident group. We have one of the best goaltenders in the world. We can rally around that. We know we're a great hockey team and can easily win the series and make a big run here." 

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