MONTREAL - Talk about a perfect return for Andrew Copp.
In his first game since December 17, the 25-year-old helped the Winnipeg Jets get back in the win column by scoring the eventual game-winner on Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens with 9:44 left in regulation.
Although if you ask him, the script could have been a little bit better.
"It could have gone better," Copp said with a grin. "I could have buried on that one in the second period and put it through his legs."
Oh well. A win is a win.
Video: POSTGAME | Andrew Copp
Copp played 17:01 in the game with two shots on goal and 2:34 of time on the penalty kill in the victory. That time on the PK was critical, as the Jets killed off both Montreal power plays. The second came with 3:45 left in the third and, at times, was a six-on-four advantage for the Canadiens.
All jokes aside, Copp was happy with his return.
"It didn't feel like I missed the beat," said Copp. "I did all the proper things in terms of recovery that I was able to move the timeline up. I felt like I didn't miss a step out there. I felt like our line was pretty good - little things here and there - but I felt good."
Following a scoreless first period, the Jets opened the scoring 1:32 into the second. After some great work below the goal line from the line of Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, and Jack Roslovic, Ehlers was able to get the puck back to Josh Morrissey at the point.
Morrissey's wrist shot got through a maze of bodies in front of Carey Price and found twine for the Jets defenceman's fourth goal of the season.
The Jets are now 15-5-0 when scoring first this season. The goal was also a product of increased offensive zone time, something head coach Paul Maurice stressed after Saturday's overtime loss to Minnesota.
"The first goal is a perfect example of what we needed to do. We worked the puck a little harder on the outside and made sure we got net traffic. I'd say it was a starting point," said Maurice.
"I think we left a lot of zone time in some neutral zone decisions, but it was a good start."
Video: WPG@MTL: Copp sneaks shot past Price on partial break
Then with Mathieu Perreault in the box for hooking, Ehlers forced a turnover in the neutral zone and sent in Wheeler all alone. Ehlers used his speed to become an option for the Jets captain as they broke in on a 2-on-0, with Wheeler dropping the puck back to Ehlers who buried it to make it 2-0.
"I was surprised it was a 2-on-0, not surprised he passed it to me. If he doesn't pass it to me there we're going to have problems," Wheeler said with a smile.
"Great play by him to strip the puck. I saw we were off to the races. I was just trying to suck Price over and give him a little room to put it up."
The shorthanded marker, which came 3:14 after Morrissey's goal, was the 17th goal of the season for Ehlers.
"I sit in the (penalty kill) meeting every single time. I know where I need to go. It worked out pretty good today," said Ehlers.
"For me on that and what we try to do, it's pressure them off their breakout. He tries to make a seam pass in the neutral zone and I need to step up there. I saw an opportunity and got it."
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
But a former Jet would cut that two-goal lead in half with 8:57 to go in the middle frame. Ben Chiarot's slapshot from the top of the left circle beat Connor Hellebuyck on the stick side, making the score 2-1.
In the third period, Copp picked off a puck at the blue line and broke in on Price alone. Copp's shot trickled through the legs of Price putting the Jets ahead by two, 3-1.
"It changes so many things for us," Maurice said of Copp's return. "Obviously the penalty kill is much improved with him there. The line of Lowry, Copp, and Perreault change the way we look. It also changes where lines come off the bench. So Blake Wheeler is playing against a different set of players and a different set of D. He has a huge impact on what we look like."
But Chiarot wasn't done either, as his wrist shot from the right circle got by Hellebuyck's outstretched leg to pull Montreal back within one with 8:13 left in regulation.
That's as close as Montreal would get as the Jets held the fort and now have three of a possible four points halfway through the road trip.
The next stop comes in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.