TAMPA, FL - It was…an electrifying turn of events.
The Winnipeg Jets bounced back after a disappointing New Year's Eve loss with an exciting 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to kick off a three-game road trip.
Nikolaj Ehlers led the way with a pair of goals including one on a penalty shot, Patrik Laine chipped in with a goal (EN) and two assists, while Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien scored the others in a wild, back-and-forth affair on Tuesday at Amalie Arena.
Connor Hellebuyck made 32 saves.
"It was just nice to get on the right side of things," captain Blake Wheeler said. "Two tough losses, you come on the road and want to do the right things. For the most part we did that tonight and it was good enough to get a win.
"You'd like to tighten things up and close that thing out. You know, a 4-1 lead in the third you'd like to keep it airtight and finish it off 4-1, but a win's a win."
With the Jets leading by three entering the third period, Tampa's Ondrej Palat scored to make it a 4-2 game early in the third, but Ehlers restored the Jets' three-goal advantage with 10:32 to play. With speed down the right side, Ehlers cut to the middle and beat Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy with a beautiful wrister from the top of the circles.
Power-play goals by Nikita Kucherov less than five minutes apart late in the third made it close, but the Lightning were unable to get one more. Laine found the empty net with 1:23 to play, and Ehlers had a chance at the hat trick moments later with the net empty once again, but he fired it off the post.
Either way, a two-goal night worked just fine for the gifted young winger.
Video: POSTGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers
"I'm building more and more confidence, and I'm feeling more and more comfortable," Ehlers said. "Our line is doing (well). We've had our ups and downs as a line, but when we play a good game like today, when we play together, play with a lot of speed, we create a lot of chances and help this team win."
The Jets were soundly outplayed in the opening 20 minutes, outshot 17-6, in part because of three penalties in the first 10 minutes of the game.
It was a different story in the second, though, with the Jets outshooting their former Southeast counterparts 13-10, dominating the possession time and getting the better of the chances, keeping the home side on their toes and pinned in their own end for the better part of the period.
With the game tied 1-1 early in the middle frame, Ehlers put the Jets back on top with a beauty on a penalty shot. The Dane faked to the backhand, then quickly turned to the forehand before lifting a shot across the body of the goaltender, beating him top on the glove side.
Video: WPG@TBL: Ehlers uses quick release on penalty shot
"I've had my difficulties on the breakaways," Ehlers said with a laugh. "Today I thought, 'I'm just going to go and try a quick move, backhand-forehand, and just shoot it.'"
The penalty shot - the first of the sophomore's career - was awarded after he was hooked on a 2-on-1-turned-breakaway with Bryan Little, who made a fabulous pass over the stick of a defenceman, giving Ehlers a clear lane to the net.
The 20-year-old now has three multi-goal games in his last six, and is up to 34 points (12G, 22A) in 40 games this season.
"You've got to score goals if you're a goal scorer to feel good and once you get one, you start feeling a bit better," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "That (penalty shot) goal, you rarely see someone come in on that angle and stay short side. He's got such a quick release. I'm happy for him.
"That line comes up with four goals, and Mark Scheifele had one of his best games of the season. He drove the net; he battled down low. We're excited about that line because they put up numbers, but he's still playing with two really young guys and the weight of that, he carries."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
The Jets padded their lead just 49 seconds later as Trouba rocketed one home from the top of the circles after getting a nifty feed from Mathieu Perreault. The goal capped off a dominant shift by the Jets, who were led by their captain, grinding away with a workmanlike shift in the trenches - a battle that lasted for more than a minute without the Lightning gaining possession at any point.
Trouba now has eight points in his last 10 games.
Byfuglien put the Jets up 4-1 with a long knuckler that Vasilevskiy badly misplayed, whiffing on it with the glove as Perreault did a fly-by. The goal was Byfuglien's fifth of the year, while Wheeler and Josh Morrissey drew the assists.
"I liked the very first shift after they scored the tying goal. We got the momentum back," Maurice said. "I can't remember a game in recent history, not just this season, where we've had that many 'A' chances over the course of a game. We had guys down the pipe. I don't think the score is going to be flattering to the goaltenders, except there were some fantastic saves in that game. We were able to close it out, it wasn't easy, [but] they kept playing and competing, and we held."
The Jets encountered some penalty trouble, and as a result were under siege early on, surrendering the first nine shots of the game before getting their first nearly eight minutes in.
That shot - of one of only six in the period for Winnipeg - came at just the right time.
On a power play of their own after killing off a couple of early penalties, the Jets took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Scheifele, with the assist going to Laine, who delivered a beautiful pass through traffic, from the near wall to the front of the net.
Video: WPG@TBL: Scheifele redirects Laine's feed for PPG
Scheifele, who positioned himself at the edge of the circle, anticipating the high-slot redirect, made good contact, beating Vasilevskiy under the arm for goal No. 16 on the year.
The Jets entered the night 5-for-17 on the power play in their last five games.
Shots on goal favoured the Lightning 17-6 after one, but Hellebuyck kept his team in front with some incredible goaltending throughout the opening 20.
The recently recalled Matthew Peca tied things up with his first NHL goal at 3:43 of the second period, flying down the right side and picking the corner with a beautiful shot up high over Hellebuyck's right shoulder.
The Jets got three straight after that, and were in front the rest of the night.
"We had some good energy, created some good momentum," Wheeler said. "Niki's penalty shot really got us going - a little shot of adrenaline.
"Overall it was a really good win for us."
The Jets are back in action on Wednesday night as they face Jaromir Jagr and the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center in Sunrise.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com