WINNIPEG - With 90 seconds left in regulation, the Winnipeg Jets held a 2-1 lead over the Minnesota Wild and were on the verge of beating their division rival for the first time this season.
Instead, Minnesota's Jason Zucker scored during a 6-on-4 advantage with 1:27 to go in the third to tie the game. Just 26 seconds later Joel Eriksson-Ek shoved home a loose puck in the crease that stood the test of a review from the NHL and a coach's challenge from Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
A late power play gave the Jets a chance to tie, but it was unsuccessful, and the Wild left Bell MTS Place with a 3-2 victory over Winnipeg.
"It's hard for us right now," Blake Wheeler said of the Jets, who finished with 45 shot attempts to Minnesota's 49 at even strength.
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
"We spent a lot of the game not necessarily playing well but doing enough to keep them out of the danger zones," he said.
"Then the wheels fell off at the end."
Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine scored for the Jets in the loss that dropped the team's record to 37-22-4, putting them second in the Central Division.
It was a bitter end to the night for newcomers Nathan Beaulieu and Kevin Hayes, who were playing their first games in Jets uniforms after being acquired by the club prior to Monday's trade deadline.
"Definitely a lot of emotions out there at the beginning, a little nervous, but after the first couple of shifts I felt pretty good," said Hayes, who played 15:58 and won 67 per cent of his face-offs. "My line mates played good. We got trapped in the D-zone sometimes, but overall it was a pretty good night."
Video: POSTGAME | Patrik Laine
Beaulieu finished the night with 15:28 of ice time and two shots on goal alongside Jacob Trouba. Maurice liked what he saw from the defenceman in a losing cause.
"I really liked his game. Strong and simple. That stood out tonight," said Maurice, who felt the team's back pressure was also strong for the majority of the night, especially with Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey, and Joe Morrow out of the line-up.
"We're missing some important people back there that play huge minutes for us and play against the other team's best. Our back pressure to our D-zone coverage was solid for the most part."
The Jets opened the scoring on their first power play chance of the game. When the Wild couldn't get the puck deep into the Jets zone, Winnipeg transitioned quickly. Kyle Connor left a drop pass for Laine high in the Minnesota zone. Two penalty killers stopped their feet just long enough for Laine to hit Scheifele near the left face-off dot. From there, Scheifele went five hole on Devan Dubnyk for his 31st of the season.
It was the fourth straight game the Jets power play had scored.
"We were just playing not as good of offence as we can play. I think we were losing some pucks around the blue lines. We need to do a better job with that," said Laine. "We were creating enough chances to score those two goals. We played some okay defence before the 2-2 goal. We have to find ways to win."
Video: POSTGAME | Kevin Hayes
Minnesota's power play would even things up in the second. Shortly after the Jets had a shorthanded 3-on-1 chance broken up by Ryan Suter, the Wild won an offensive zone face-off and got it back to Brad Hunt at the point. His wrist shot beat a screened Connor Hellebuyck high on the glove side.
But just 14 seconds later, Ben Chiarot drove from the offensive blue line around Wild forward Marcus Foligno and cut to the slot. Chiarot's shot went off the skate of Laine in front and past Dubnyk, giving the Jets the 2-1 lead.
It was the third straight game Laine has lit the lamp, but that didn't matter to the Finnish sniper after the game, Winnipeg's fourth setback in their last five outings.
"I think we played some good hockey until the tying goal. After that, we let it go for a bit, they scored two," he said. "That was kind of the turning point of this game. We can't let it happen."
The third period remained scoreless until the two Wild goals late in regulation time.
"It's tough. Obviously we want to win more games. We're capable of winning a lot of games like we showed earlier in the season," said Laine. "We have to find some more ways (to win) and learn from these mistakes we made, and not make those mistakes again."
The Jets close out the two-game home stand on Friday against the very team they're chasing for the Central Division lead, the Nashville Predators.