LOS ANGELES, California – That's it, that's all, that's all there is.
But, boy, what a way to say goodnight.
The Winnipeg Jets closed out the 2015-16 season in dramatic fashion, quashing a 3-0 deficit with three quick goals before winning it in a shootout, 4-3 over the LA Kings. With the win, the Jets finish the season on a four-game winning streak, improving their overall record to 35-39-8 for 78 points.
Mark Scheifele scored the shootout winner, while Ondrej Pavelec made 25 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping all three in the skills competition.
Pavelec made a couple of incredible saves in a highly entertaining, end-to-end overtime to send it the distance.
“It’s great to end on a positive note, especially with the way this year has gone,” Blake Wheeler, who extended his point streak to 11 games with a goal and a helper, said post-game. “It’s bittersweet. You kind of scratch your head and wonder where this has been all year. … There’s a lot of good men in here, a lot of good leaders showing the guys who don’t have a ton of experience what it’s all about. That resonates throughout the room.”
With the shootout loss, the Kings failed to lock up first place in the Pacific Division.
Trailing by three, the Jets got themselves right back in it with two quick goals in the final three minutes of the second.
Andrew Copp trimmed the deficit with 2:56 to play, shovelling home a loose puck after the bullish Nic Petan brought it out front. Petan did some great work down low to free the puck along the wall before forcing his way through two defenders on the wraparound.
Then, just 41 seconds left in the period, Wheeler found Nikolaj Ehlers wide open in the slot and the rookie made no mistake, pounding home the one-timer for his 15th of the year.
Wheeler has eight goals and 15 on his 11-gamer dating back to Mar. 20. He finishes the year as the team’s leading scorer, netting 26 goals and 78 points, and was one of only two Jets (Chris Thorburn, the other) that played all 82 games.
“It says a lot about the kind of guys we have,” Wheeler said. “The vacation is getting pretty close. Down 3-0 to a team like that, it’s pretty easy to fold the tent, but we started skating, getting pucks behind their guys, (we) made them turn and created a couple turnovers. From there, we had the momentum on our side.”
Wheeler tied it at 3:21 of the third, fooling Jonathan Quick with a fluttering shot in tight, tying his goal total (26) from the 2014-15 season. Scheifele drew the assist.
“Just about all parts the game we were better,” said Head Coach Paul Maurice. “I don’t think that the games we played coming in where played like that. They had something to gained from this game and they came out and played hard. We didn’t match that but we did start to skate in the second period.”
With the Jets on their heels for much of the opening 20, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson put the Kings on top by two with goals just four minutes and 11 seconds apart midway through.
Toffoli’s 31st of the year got things rolling at 9:18 as he finished a beautiful pass from Jeff Carter, who faked the shot before dishing off on his backhand, setting up a tap-in across the goalmouth.
With the assist, Carter – an 11-year vet – tied a career high with his 38th apple of the campaign.
Pearson put the Kings up by a pair at 13:29 after the Jets were caught flat-footed in the neutral zone. Taking the puck down his off wing, Pearson blew past the defence, cut to the net and buried a shot five-hole on the Kings’ 10th shot of the period.
Shots (13-7) and shot attempts (23-13) favoured the Kings in a one-sided opening frame.
Scheifele came close to notching his 30th of the year with a great look early in the middle frame, but a fantastic sliding effort from LA defenceman Luke Schenn foiled the opportunity.
“I counted about six that I could have had it, but I guess I’ll count the shootout one as one,” Scheifele laughed.
The Kings went up 3-0 just moments later as Andy Andreoff got a lucky bounce in the blue paint. Pavelec made the initial save on the forward’s wraparound try, but the rebound deflected in off Paul Postma, putting the Jets in a huge hole.
But with a little heart and elbow grease, they dug themselves out of it.
“The defining thing for us is that we started knocking things down in the neutral zone,” Maurice said.
“There have been a couple games I didn’t love — even tonight, you’re not happy as a coach after the first period and partway through the second. But we didn’t quit. Blake Wheeler has done a masterful job of driving himself, even in games that haven’t meant a whole lot. We’ve seen it a lot lately.”
LATE HITS: Michael Hutchinson was supposed to get the start in goal but did not play due to the flu.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com