SAINT PAUL, Minnesota – If Paul Maurice and the injury depleted Winnipeg Jets could draw up the model road game, it would look a lot like the one we saw Friday at Xcel Energy Center.
With Adam Lowry, Mark Scheifele and Drew Stafford all injured, the Jets – in the second of a back-to-back set, with travel – dug deep into the reserves, putting everything they have into an impressive 1-0 shutout win over the division rival Minnesota Wild.
Connor Hellebuyck made 24 saves and Blake Wheeler scored the only goal.
“I judge so much by the bench and how the players respond to (Thursday’s), effort,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “That might have been better than our game last night. It was a bit of a rollercoaster. Some guys couldn’t play tonight, new lines. I could talk about every guy and that’s usually a good sign. Blocked shots, big saves. Just some great play.”
Less than 24 hours after scoring the overtime winner in a 5-4 victory over the Nashville Predators, Wheeler got the Jets on the board with a beautiful goal three minutes in. Leading a 2-on-1 with Andrew Ladd, Wheeler displayed a wonderful show of patience, toe dragging around a sprawling Wild defenceman (Jonas Brodin) before firing a shot low glove on Devan Dubnyk.
Bryan Little recorded the lone assist.
Wheeler has been red-hot of late, recording 16 points (3G, 13A) in his past 15 games, and is tied for fifth overall in points, trailing Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Erik Karlsson.
“I think we had the same energy in our room going into the game. There was a lot of excitement and you could tell,” Wheeler said. “Once that went in, you could feel that it was going to be one of those 1-0, 2-0 games. That’s how you want to play it on the road.
“It was the perfect road game.”
It was a strong opening 20 for the Jets, who were coming in on the tail of a back-to-back set, but weathered the storm. As he was all night, Hellebuyck was perfect, helping the Jets kill four minutes in penalties and stopping all 13 shots he faced.
“He’s looked exactly the same in every game he’s played,” Maurice said of his goaltender. “He’s just poised, big, square. Doesn’t let pucks come off him very often.”
The Jets had a great chance to extend the lead early in the second period when back-to-back penalties were assessed to the home team, but the blue were unable to capitalize on a 54-second 5-on-3, generating just one shot.
The power play notwithstanding, it was a picture-perfect period for the Jets, who outshot the Wild 12-4.
“That was overall a great effort. We put it all out there,” Mathieu Perreault, who had, perhaps, his best game of the season alongside Nikolaj Ehlers and Joel Armia, said post-game. "It was fun. These guys are good players.”
The Jets controlled the third, but were forced to kill another penalty late in regulation as Alexander Burmistrov was sent off for tripping. At a time they needed it the most, the PK stepped up in a big, big way.
“I saw everyone paying the price,” Hellebuyck said. “Everyone was willing to block a shot. Everyone bought in tonight and when everyone buys in, good things happen.”
Stafford and Lowry – who were both late scratches – are considered day-to-day. Maurice hopes they will both be in the lineup on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche.
“We’ve dealt with adversity before. We’re used to it,” Wheeler said of the effort, with three key players out. “We rallied around it a little bit. We live and die by our energy, what our room feels like and what our bench feels like. That’s the way it’s been these last two games.”
LATE HITS: With Stafford and Lowry out, Anthony Peluso and Adam Pardy drew into the lineup, with Pardy – a defenceman – playing up front alongside Andrew Copp and Anthony Peluso. … After suffering an upper-body injury in the second period of Thursday’s win over the Nashville Predators, Dustin Byfuglien was back in the lineup looking no worse for wear, recording three hits and four goals on goal in nearly 28 minutes of ice time.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com