Connor scores twice to help Jets past Oilers
Wheeler and Laine round out the scoring for Jets; Hellebuyck makes 36 savesby Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com
EDMONTON - Six times this season, the Winnipeg Jets have put together three consecutive wins.
After Wednesday's night tilt against the Edmonton Oilers, the Jets had their first four-game win streak of the season.
"Every game is a playoff game for us," said captain Blake Wheeler. "Last game against Arizona was a playoff game. They're right below us in the standings and we had to get a win. Certainly we're playing a playoff calibre team tonight. Going forward, that's what it's going to be every night. There is a lot of excitement."
Video: WPG@EDM: Connor nets goal on breakaway
Wheeler scored his 22nd of the season in the victory, then assisted on the first of two goals from Kyle Connor, which ended up being the game-winner.
Connor added an empty netter with 40 seconds left in regulation and now has 38 goals this season.
He said the game-winner, which was his 200th career point, was also a bit more satisfying after Oilers goaltender Mike Smith had turned away a number of Connor's scoring chances earlier in the game.
"I was calling for it flying up the middle," Connor said about getting the breakaway pass from Wheeler in the neutral zone.
"I got in and I had missed low blocker, he had gloved me, so I tried to change it up and go five-hole. It worked."
After a scoreless first period, the Oilers opened the scoring nine seconds into the middle frame when they pounced on a turnover behind the Jets net. Connor Hellebuyck couldn't get through the bodies in front after coming out to play the puck, and Tyler Ennis tapped his 16th of the season over the goal line for a 1-0 Edmonton lead.
Video: WPG@EDM: Wheeler deflects puck in off defender
The Jets (37-28-6) got that back near the halfway mark of the period when Nathan Beaulieu's stretch pass to Nikolaj Ehlers on the left wing started an offensive rush. Ehlers played the puck from the wing to the middle of the ice for Wheeler, whose attempted pass went off the stick of James Neal and deflected past Mike Smith.
The Jets took a 2-1 lead with 3:32 to go in the second, when Cody Eakin took advantage of the fact that Mike Smith wasn't able to play a puck below the goal line. With Smith out of the net, Eakin slid a backhand pass in front to Patrik Laine who rifled it home for his 28th of the season.
"I felt the momentum shifts on the bench were bigger, maybe the weight of the game for our team, but we handled it," said head coach Paul Maurice, comparing tonight's game to the meeting between the Jets and Oilers less than two weeks ago.
"I think at the end of the day, what's fair to say, is we probably had far better offence in our last game here," he said. "They had far better offence in this game. The goaltenders were the difference in both."
Video: WPG@EDM: Laine one-times goal from the slot
The lead didn't last long though, as less than two minutes later, Connor McDavid got behind Dmitry Kulikov on the right wing and cut in front of Hellebuyck, outwaited the Jets goaltender, and tucked the puck inside the post to tie the game at two.
Winnipeg restored the lead just 29 seconds into the third, when Wheeler sent Kyle Connor in all alone on Smith. Connor's quick release sent the puck through Smith's five-hole for his 37th of the season and 200th career NHL point.
"That line is in and around it all the time," Maurice said. "Whether they score or they don't, they generate some big chances. He's in alone, Mark (Scheifele) is in alone, Kyle is in the slot by himself… The high end of our chances were good."
Connor's empty net goal rounded out the scoring in the win, which pushed the Jets back into a wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
It didn't come easy though, as the Jets were outshot 12-3 in the final period, but Hellebuyck - who made 36 saves on the night - turned away all 12 he faced in the final period.
"We've had to play a certain way all year and just grind, grind, and grind," said Wheeler. "When you stick to that identity and all of a sudden you're a little bit deeper in your line-up than you have been all year, guys start to get that taste that it's a realistic possibility to make the playoffs."