WINNIPEG – For much of the night MTS Centre was filled with fans decked out in all kinds of creative costumes, together creating a volume – at times – reminiscent of the playoffs.
Marcus Foligno then spoiled the party, breaking a 2-2 tie early in the third period, and the building fell quiet. The Winnipeg Jets were unable to mount a comeback, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Buffalo Sabres.
Sam Reinhart led the way offensively, recording his first NHL hat trick in the win.
The Jets poured 44 shots on Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark, but couldn’t get ‘the next one.’
“We had enough offence early in the second period to get the lead and put a little distance between us,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said, “but we need to make good on the chances that we had and we didn’t do that.”
Reinhart opened the scoring for the Sabres early in the first period, but the Jets were quick to respond, levelling the score at 5:21. Blake Wheeler was credited with the goal – his first in 12 games – after redirecting a Bryan Little shot over the shoulder of the Buffalo ‘tender.
Former Sabre Drew Stafford recorded the other assist for his 23rd point on the year, springing Little with a beautiful, behind-the-back feed along the half wall. The winger had a terrific chance late in the period as well, but his backhand deke in tight was blockered aside by the goalie.
The Sabres took a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal at 14:29. With Tyler Myers off serving a dubious holding minor, Reinhart’s attempted pass in front went off a defender and through the wickets of Connor Hellebuyck.
Hellebuyck finished with 25 saves.
The Jets were all over the Sabres for much of the period, fashioning 20 of the period’s 26 even-strength shot attempts, including an 11-0 run in the final 10 minutes.
“I haven’t really dissected why you score and why you don’t,” Wheeler said. “More often than not, if you look at both of our goals tonight, that’s how you score goals in this league. Some of that is getting a good bounce here and there, some is getting to the net a little more, but when it rains, it pours I guess.”
The home team tied the game on a power play 56 seconds into the middle frame, as the puck popped loose to Mathieu Perreault at the right circle. No. 85 made no mistake, slapping it off the far post for his team-leading fifth PPG.
Nikolaj Ehlers had a breakaway moments later, but his backhand five-hole attempt was denied. Ehlers was buried head first into the corner boards by Mike Weber immediately after, putting the Jets back on the power play. Chris Thorburn came to his teammate’s defence and dropped the mitts, easily earning the decision over the guilty Sabre.
“We make a lot of goalies look hot these days,” Wheeler said.
Buffalo went back out in front early in the third when Foligno hammered the puck into the open side after a long, low slapper from Brian Gionta was kicked his way.
“The guy put it on net or what I thought was close to the net, so I was just trying to put it into the glass. I felt like I got my toe on it instead of my stick and then it was right on his tape and I wasn’t able to get back in my time,” Hellebuyck said.
Reinhart scored into the empty net with 25 seconds left to seal the win for Buffalo.
LATE HITS: Perreault left the game late in the second period after colliding with Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe. He made it off under his own power, but did not put any weight on his right knee. After a quick stay on the bench, he was then helped to the dressing room, but did return for the third, only to leave again after falling awkwardly late in the game. Maurice did not have an update on his condition . … Mark Scheifele did not dress after suffering a lower-body injury Thursday in Dallas. Anthony Peluso drew into the lineup as a result, playing 6:06 alongside Andrew Copp and Joel Armia. Scheifele is expected back for Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com