on Sunday night at MTS Centre.
Parked in front, Toews deflected Niklas Hjalmarsson’s point blast Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec for the winning goal after Patrick Sharp tied it up on a controversial goal earlier in the third period, which ultimately turned the tide.
The Jets outshot the Hawks 34-24.
With the win, the Hawks have reclaimed third place in the Central Division and are now one point up on the Minnesota Wild. The Jets, meanwhile, fall to 39-25-12 and remain at 90 points, two up on the Los Angeles Kings for the final Western Conference playoff berth.
Dustin Byfuglien scored a pair of power-play goals while Blake Wheeler added the other, a beautiful shorthanded tally. Pavelec made 20 saves in a losing effort – his first in seven games.
“It’s a tough loss,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “You’re not taking away any of the pain or frustration tonight, so we’ll chat [with the players] tomorrow. … We’ll follow our normal routine. We’ll deal with it tomorrow and it will be done by the time we hit the ice (for practice).”
Asked whether or not the Jets felt a bit “unlucky” tonight, considering the hotly debated game-tying goal, Wheeler offered the following:
“It looked like it. Felt like it.”
“We worked our tails off tonight and that’s what we do every night. 3-2, with not a whole lot of time left in the game, we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves,” he said. “Momentum definitely shifted on that goal. It’s not easy to bounce back from those types of situations, but we’re going to have to find a way.”
The Hawks took a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal late in the opening 20. With Byfuglien off serving an elbowing penalty, Andrew Shaw capitalized on a rebound in front, spinning and firing into the open side behind a sprawling Pavelec with 90 seconds left in the period. Brandon Saad and all-star defenceman Duncan Keith recorded the assists.
Scoring at a goal-per-game pace in his last four, Shaw is now up to 14 on the year, six off his career-high of 20 set last season.
Shots on goal favoured the visitors 7-6 after one. However, the Jets led 13-12 in shot attempts, including one that rang off the iron.
The Jets had a glorious chance to even it up early in the second when Lee Stempniak was sprung a partial break, shorthanded, but his quick shot was kicked away by the left pad of Corey Crawford.
But it didn’t matter. The Jets made sure to recover on a power-play chance not long after. As Hjalmarsson served a minor for elbowing, Byfuglien made amends for his earlier penalty of the same variety, netting his 17th of the season at 4:34. Following a beautiful effort to keep the puck in at the line, No. 33 snapped a quick shot on goal, having it bounce up into the air and across the line past Corey Crawford after a mad scramble in the blue paint.
Feeding off the crowd, the Jets took a 2-1 lead a little while later – and they did so in spectacular fashion a man down, choreographing a phenomenal, three-way passing play for the go-ahead goal. Receiving a feed from Tyler Myers, Wheeler deked to his forehand, freezing Crawford before effortlessly sliding the puck into the yawning cage from the sharpest of angles.
As to be expected, the Western Wild Card leaders weren’t going away.
Brad Richards brought the teams back on level footing with 3:41 to play, neatly deflecting a Johnny Oduya shot past Pavelec.
Mere seconds after wiring a one-time shot off the far post, Byfuglien got a second chance – and this time he made no mistake, tickling the twine with a 54-foot slap shot, raising the roof and giving the Jets a 3-2 lead with a power-play goal at 19:34. Byfuglien now has three goals in two games since returning from injury.
“It’s hockey,” said a soft-spoken Byfuglien post-game. “I thought we deserved our two points, but that’s the way it goes.”
The Hawks made it a 3-3 game with the contentious tally of the night, 6:27 into the third period. In pursuit of a loose puck in the neutral zone, Enstrom lost his stick in a collision with a linesman, allowing Patrick Sharp to scoot in alone on a breakaway. The four-time 30-goal scorer made the most of the opportunity, delivering the tying goal with a quick shot, glove side, as boos from the sold-out crowd rained down on the officials.
“It’s like an injury,” Maurice began. “You’re angry when it happens, but there isn’t anything you can do about it.”
Added Wheeler: “I feel bad for (Enstrom) and I feel mad that it has to happen, but it’s part of the game.
“We had the better of the play. It’s one of those things. We’ve got to deal with it.”
Then, the dagger.
“They’re good in front of the net,” Pavelec said. “It doesn’t have to be a hard shot. I think we played a really good game. It’s a tough way to lose, but I think overall we played a very good game.
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com