WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets closed out the regular season in style Saturday afternoon, defeating the Calgary Flames 5-1 before a playoff-ready crowd at MTS Centre.
The Jets scored four goals in the third period – including three in a 6:59 span – to break a 1-1 tie and earn their 43rd win of the campaign, tying a franchise high and setting a new franchise best for points in a season with 99.
Five different goal-scorers – Drew Stafford, Michael Frolik, Lee Stempniak, Adam Lowry and Matt Halischuk – contributed to the win, while Michael Hutchinson made 23 saves for his 21st victory of the season.
“It was a difficult game for both teams – a bit of an exhibition in terms of over-handling the puck and bringing it back a bunch of times,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said, adding that Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be like “night and day” with regard to intensity. “It was a tough game, but we got back to skating a little bit in the third. It was a good game for a lot of guys that haven’t played in a long time. You’d certainly like to clinch (a playoff spot) earlier, but you wouldn’t want to have to play too many of those.”
The Jets will now play the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, beginning on Thursday, Apr. 16 (9:30pm CT) at Honda Center.
“We had done enough good things to be in the playoffs,” Maurice said, “but if you said, ‘You’re going to bang out 99 points in the Central Division this year with the Bottom 2 teams in that division will play at about 15 games over .500’… I’m pretty darn proud of the effort this year.”
Greeted with a standing ovation as the playoff-bound Jets hit the ice, the organization kicked off the afternoon with the presentation of their year-end awards, which include the Manitoba Hydro Three Stars Award (Mathieu Perreault), the North West Company Community Service Award (Mark Stuart) and the Dan Snyder Memorial Award (Chris Thorburn). For more on the awards and the winners’ contributions to both the team and the community, click here.
The teams traded goals in the opening minute of the game, but the well ran dry for the following 40 until the Jets broke it open.
Calgary opened the scoring at the half-minute mark as Michael Ferland batted a Sam Bennett pass out of midair and in, past the recovery effort of Hutchinson following a giveaway behind the net. Playing his first NHL game, Bennett – the fourth pick in last year’s NHL Entry Draft – recorded the lone assist, becoming one of the few players in league history to record a point on their first shift.
The Jets replied 15 seconds later as Stafford beat Joni Ortio with a wrister from the top of the faceoff circle. Botching the normally routine glove save attempt, Ortio could only watch as the puck trickled across the line, igniting the building once again.
“That was the teaser,” Mark Scheifele said of the electric atmosphere. “The fans going to be crazy (in the playoffs). They’ve been with us all year and they’ve been unbelievable. The playoffs will definitely take it to the next level.”
Shots on goal favoured the home side 10-8 after one period of play, but the Flames rallied back to take an 18-15 lead that department through 40 minutes.
Frolik gave the Jets a 2-1 lead 47 seconds into the third as he converted a beautiful pass from Mark Scheifele on a 2-on-1, sailing a shot into the heart of the cage for his 19th of the season. Stempniak put this one to bed six minutes later, rifling a shot past Ortio to put the home side up by two. Andrew Copp recorded his first NHL point on the play, tallying the lone assist with a feed in the neutral zone.
“It was pretty fun,” Copp said. “I was really nervous, but after the first period I started to get more comfortable and it felt like a real game. It was a great experience and something I’ll never forget."
“It was pretty much what I expected, especially the pace.”
“I really enjoyed watching him play,” Maurice said of the 20-year-old, who finished the night with over 13 minutes of ice time and was 67 percent in the dot.
Lowry added another for good measure, sliding a shot into the open side as the Jets broke the game wide open, scoring three in the front half of the final frame. Halischuk rounded out the scoring late, redirecting a Stempniak pass between the blocker and the goalpost, giving the Jets a commanding 5-1 lead at 18:59.
“(The fans) are excited, we’re excited, everybody’s excited,” Chris Thorburn said. “We wanted to have a good feeling going into the playoffs and the win helps. It was a tough game to play, ugly at times, but we came out with two points and we’re now going to the dance.”
LATE HITS: Mark Stuart, Jacob Trouba, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Tyler Myers Mathieu Perreault and Ondrej Pavelec were all scratched for the Jets. … Flames defencemen TJ Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, as well as forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, David Jones and Sean Monahan all stayed back in Calgary to rest up for the playoffs. … Toby Enstrom was back in the lineup after missing three games due to injury. … Dustin Byfuglien was also back in action after serving a four-game suspension.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com