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Fast start propels Jets to win over Golden Knights

Jets score three times in opening period; Hellebuyck earns league-leading sixth shutout

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - The 15,000-plus inside Bell MTS Place were ready for a party. 

It was Friday night, the 'Go Jets Go' chants started before the puck even dropped, the collective 'True North' seemed to have a bit more emphasis, and then, the Winnipeg Jets (35-28-6) made the atmosphere even better.

Nikolaj Ehlers opened the scoring 32 seconds into the contest as part of a three-goal first period, and the Jets never looked back, earning a 4-0 shutout win over the Vegas Golden Knights.

"That was something we definitely needed," said Patrik Laine, who finished with a goal and an assist in the win. "We've been struggling with our first periods lately. We've been always chasing the game. Tonight, three goals in the first, that's huge for us. It gave us confidence and a little bit of security for the next two (periods). We were able to close it out, so it was a great win."

Video: POSTGAME | Patrik Laine

Along with goals from Ehlers and Laine, Kyle Connor, and Mathieu Perreault also scored for the Jets in the win, while Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 29 shots to earn his league-leading sixth shutout of the season.

"It's a great milestone, but it's a testament to the guys in front of me and how well we've been playing," said Hellebuyck. "When we bring it, we know we can really shut teams down. I thought tonight was a good team game."

With the crowd still buzzing after the anthems, Ehlers used his speed to turn the corner on Vegas defenceman Zach Whitecloud. Ehlers circled the net and his wrap around attempt went off the stick of Ryan Reaves in front and through Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Jets a 1-0 lead.

"It was nice to see our crowd into it. It was an exciting win," said Blake Wheeler, who had an assist. "Obviously a big one for us. We just have to keep climbing."

Climb they did.

Winnipeg built on the lead on the power play just 4:09 later, when Laine corralled a loose puck off the leg of Brayden McNabb, and whipped his 27th of the season into the net behind Fleury to make it 2-0.

Those two points less than five minutes into the game put Laine over the 60-point mark for the third time in four seasons.

"Playing that kind of game against Vegas, it's hard. They have a really good team," said Laine. "It's not easy to get points from them. It was huge for us because every point matters from now on. So those are huge for us."

The Jets weren't done, as they capped off a solid first period with Connor scoring his 36th of the season, giving him goals in each of the last five games. It started in the defensive end when Jack Roslovic intercepted a pass high in the Jets zone, then took off on a two-on-one with Connor. Roslovic sent the feed from Fleury's left to the right, and Connor buried it.

Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice

While the lead was 3-0, the first period was also Hellebuyck's busiest of the three periods. He made 12 saves in the opening 20 minutes, then added 11 more in the second, before finishing the clean slate with six more in the third.

"Connor was good all night. I know the fans appreciated it. To really appreciate how good he was, you really have to watch the game again," said Maurice. "A lot of small area, small saves that maybe didn't look like a couple Marc-Andre made at the other end. He had a volume of really important saves."

A second Jets power play in the middle frame also cashed in, as Perreault - in his first game back since January 31 - buried a rebound in front of Fleury to push Winnipeg's lead to 4-0 with six minutes to go in the second period.

It was Perreault's third goal - and second on the man advantage - against the Golden Knights this season.

Maurice felt that goal was a reward for the Jets getting back to their game.

"At 3-0, you have a really dangerous team off the rush. They just amp that up. Their risk changes completely. They had it on us a little bit," Maurice said of the Golden Knights, who had nine wins in their last 10 games coming into the night. 

"We were on our heels trying to sort that out," said Maurice. "We got back on their D a little bit, got some zone time, the fourth goal changes the game."

Video: POSTGAME | Mathieu Perreault

Vegas held the edge in shots on goal in the third by a 6-5 margin, but nothing was getting by Hellebuyck on this night.

"That felt like a typical Winnipeg game. When our crowd gets into it like that, it's so easy to get some momentum and really carry and push our pace on them," said Hellebuyck. "I'm having a lot of fun."

The Jets close out the home stand on Monday night against the Arizona Coyotes.

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