WINNIPEG - All season long, Blake Wheeler has always said his Winnipeg Jets will stay in the fight.
They did that and more on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Jets trailed in the game twice, played with four defencemen in the final period, lost starting goaltender Laurent Brossoit due to cramping with 11:19 left in regulation - and still won 4-3.
Andrew Copp scored the eventual game-winner with 1:54 on the clock, intercepting a clearing pass from Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, and the Jets hung on for a huge win on home ice.
"Honestly it's just who our team is this year," said Wheeler, who recorded his 600th career point as a Jet as part of a two-point effort Saturday. "Right away from training camp it's what we've been doing. The hockey hasn't always been pretty in the first little bit, but the last stretch of games, I think we've found something. It all goes back to that. That compete, that work ethic.
"You see 'connected' written all over our walls. This team is connected."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mathieu Perreault had the other three goals for the Jets in the win, moving the Jets to 14-9-1. But that 14th victory came at a cost.
Defencemen Josh Morrissey (lower-body) and Nathan Beaulieu (and upper-body) left the game with injuries in the second period.
Head coach Paul Maurice said Morrissey (Winnipeg's leader in average ice time this season) "should be fine" while Beaulieu will need more tests to determine the extent of his injury.
That left Neal Pionk and Dmitry Kulikov to play as a pair, with Tucker Poolman and Luca Sbisa making up the other defensive duo.
"Those guys played a lot in that third period and they played hard. They were quick on their man, they didn't give them a lot of time and space. That's a huge performance by those guys back there," said Copp. "Obviously Sbisa and Pools don't play together usually, but I thought they were really strong, didn't allow too much to the front of the net and were heavy in the corners on the PK late in the second period."
Video: JETSTV LIVE | Andrew Copp
Columbus opened the scoring with a power play marker in the first period from Pierre-Luc Dubois, but the Jets would respond 3:24 later. Columbus, Ohio native Jack Roslovic flew down the right wing side, took a peek over his shoulder and saw Wheeler coming in late. He fed a perfect seam pass back toward the top of the slot, where Wheeler fired home his sixth of the season.
The Jets took their first lead of the game 5:19 into the second. First, a big pad save from Brossoit on a cross crease pass as a Blue Jackets power play expired. Ehlers jumped out of the box as the Jets cleared the puck beating out an icing. A few short seconds later, Ehlers and Wheeler worked a nice give-and-go with Ehlers finishing it off.
"Out of the first 24 games we've played, we've had that happen when we've been down and you just stay in the fight long enough to give yourself a chance to win," said Maurice, who liked the fight his team showed in the adversity that was to come.
Two Jets penalties to Poolman and Sbisa put the Jets on a five-on-three penalty kill for 1:51. Seth Jones ripped a one-timer past Brossoit to tie the game and shortly after, Gustav Nyquist whacked a loose puck under Brossoit to put the visitors in front 3-2.
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
Winnipeg found a way to tie it up again though, as Perreault didn't get all of a centering pass from Adam Lowry, but it was enough to get it by Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, tying things up at three.
"The second period was wild," said Copp, describing the four-goal period that also saw four Jets minor penalties. "You're just trying to focus on your job and keep going. But it's tough when you see guys going down left and right, everyone is yelling at the refs, crowd is yelling at the refs. We got a few calls to go our way in the third which was nice, but we have to clean up the PK a little bit."
Playing with four defencemen in the third, the Jets battled throughout the 20 minutes, outshooting Columbus 12-6. But that's when adversity struck again.
Brossoit left the ice with cramping, forcing Connor Hellebuyck into the game.
He made five saves to earn the win, even though he didn't feel like he deserved it.
"It feels guilty. Laurent played so well. He really earned this victory tonight," said Hellebuyck. "Unfortunately I take the stat. I hope he knows, and I've told him, that everyone in here knows he earned that victory tonight."
That set the stage for Copp, whose wrist shot from the left circle deflected off a body and bounced past Merzlikins.
The victory moves the Jets to 11-1-1 in one-goal games and earns them a much needed breather, with the next game on the schedule coming on Wednesday in San Jose against the Sharks.
"It wasn't easy, it wasn't smooth. But the compete was there and the bench was great. They stayed in the fight. They really supported each other," said Maurice.
"They played hard. This group has played hard, maybe not perfect, but hard."