WINNIPEG – For the second straight game, the Winnipeg Jets earned a valuable point in the fight for a playoff spot.
Unfortunately, it also came in a loss – a heartbreaking one at that after battling like they did.
Brandon Saad scored with 1:59 left in overtime, lifting the Chicago Blackhawks to a 2-1 win on Friday night at MTS Centre. Finishing off a wraparound try from Patrick Kane, Saad hammered a shot past Michael Hutchinson for the winning tally after finding a gap in coverage down low.
With the single point, the Jets – who have now lost six in a row (0-4-2) – are now four points back of the Hawks for third in the Central Division.
The Jets continue to lead the Western Conference Wild Card with 62 points on the year, three points up on the Vancouver Canucks and seven on the first non-playoff team, the Colorado Avalanche, who are in town on Sunday.
“We would like a better result but we’re OK with the 60 minutes we played,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We assess where we’re at after every game. We use the same language – the same scale that we’re on. We weren’t happy with where we were coming out of the (All-Star) break, but we’re happy with our last two. We have a better comfort level now that we’re getting back to our game.
“It would be nice to play a solid 60 minutes and have that good feeling leaving the building. The shootout (losses) I don’t even worry about. The points are critical, but the overtime wins are the ones you can get a big boost from.”
From the drop of the puck, this one had a playoff feel to it.
With Daniel Carcillo making his triumphant return to the Blackhawks’ lineup, retribution was on the mind of many.
Step right up, Chris Thorburn!
In their previous meeting on Jan. 16, Carcillo – a repeat offender with eight prior suspensions – delivered a vicious cross-check to the arm of Mathieu Perreault. The 27-year-old was forced from the game before missing the next two, while Carcillo was banished for six by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
Payback was inevitable. Decisive, it was. Momentum was theirs.
Mark Scheifele opened the scoring at 4:17, firing a shot over the shoulder of Corey Crawford after Perreault’s backhand centering pass deflected off the skate of Patrick Kane.
The goal was Scheifele’s first in 11 games and eighth overall this season. The 21-year-old is working diligently to improve his craft. On Thursday, Scheifele skated alone for well over an hour after practice ended. The extra work is paying off.
Scheifele finished the night with the goal, two shots and a +1 rating in over 20 minutes of ice time
“I’ve been working on my game this last little while,” he said. “I want to continue to play the style I know how to play, and the style that’s going to help the team win. Each and every night I want to work my hardest and that’s something I’m going to continue to do.
“I can build off that [performance].”
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 9-8 after one period of play.
Kane brought the game back on even terms early in the second period, scoring a backhand beauty on Hutchinson after slipping through coverage and racing in alone.
Hutchinson faced only six shots in the period, but was good when he had to be. His best, robbing Duncan Keith moments earlier with a beautiful left pad save as the two-time Norris Trophy winner gunned a wicked one-time shot from between the dots.
“It was a really tight game,” Hutchinson said. “There weren’t many shots either way, but there were tons of scoring chances. It was an exciting game to be a part of.”
Hutchinson made 20 saves on 22 shots.
Patrick Sharp and the Blackhawks came close – rifling a shot off the crossbar near the 10-minute mark – but the game remained in a 1-1 score through 40 minutes.
Then it was Crawford’s turn to shine.
First, a hot shot off an odd-man rush and the next, a clever deflection a short while later, Dustin Byfuglien did everything but score early on in the third. On a line with Scheifele and Perreault, Byfuglien was playing his second game back at forward.
Bryan Little had a chance to end it early in overtime, but his breakaway attempt sailed high and wide of the net, opening the door for Saad.
“There were a lot of good things tonight,” Scheifele said. We were back to our physicality and we were up to speed. It sucks to lose in overtime, but it’s definitely something we can build off.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com