WINNIPEG – Fitting, that against one of the top teams in the National Hockey League Saturday, fans of the Winnipeg Jets would be treated to one of the best and most entertaining games of the season.
Best of all, it ended on a high note. Twice.
Mark Scheifele scored the winning goal with 19.9 seconds to play in overtime, leading the Jets past the Washington Capitals 2-1.
Scheifele took a pass from Jacob Trouba and fired a shot low shot, blocker side on Braden Holtby. The goal was reviewed for nearly 10 minutes, but after an agonizing wait, the fans got to celebrate once again.
“It’s definitely a mood killer,” Scheifele said with a laugh. “I was pretty jacked up and then they were looking at it for forever.
“It’s definitely a huge win. They’re a good team, they play hard and they have lots of skill – and we were able to stay with them for a 60 minutes and it shows well on our team.”
Andrew Ladd scored in regulation, while Connor Hellebuyck made 37 saves to remain undefeated in three starts.
Nicklas Backstrom scored the lone goal for the Capitals.
After a tough stretch in early November, the Jets are now 5-3 in their past eight games.
“We’re close to a real good understanding of how we want to play and how it’s supposed to look,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “More importantly for everyone, we understand it’s never going to get easy.”
The Jets were far and away the better of the two teams in the opening 20, outshooting the Capitals 17-6 – aided in part by four power play opportunities, including an eventful, but ultimately unsuccessful, 36-second 5-on-3.
As he has been all year in the American capital, Braden Holtby was the difference, but not even he could hold the fort long enough. With the Jets on the power play, Ladd struck with six seconds left in the period, picking the corner from the top of the circle after a Dustin Byfuglien point shot caromed off the end boards.
Byfuglien and Bryan Little recorded the assists on the captain’s eighth, following a scuffle that saw Trouba fight for the second time this season.
“We’re getting better,” Ladd said. “Over the last stretch of hockey we’ve played, defensively we’re getting stronger and we know we have the guys up front that can put the puck in the net. It’s a comfort level of playing that defensive game and waiting for your opportunities.
“A lot of positives to take from playing a tight game like that.”
Alexander Ovechkin had the best and perhaps only chance of the period for the visitors, flying down the right side and ringing one off the crossbar midway through.
The Capitals pushed back in the middle stanza, tying the game with a power-play goal at 14:25. With Anthony Peluso off for roughing, Backstrom walked off the half wall and fired a shot short side on Hellebuyck.
While the Jets had a 25-20 advantage in shots through two periods, the Capitals were pulling away in 5-on-5 scoring chances, leading 16-9.
They corrected that in the third, though, and nearly took a 2-1 lead before the ice had even dried. Mark Scheifele uncorked a one-timer in tight after receiving a terrific pass from Drew Stafford, but Holtby was up to the task.
Moments later, Byfuglien cranked one off the post.
The Capitals looked poised to take it in overtime, but Hellebuyck came up with big, setting the stage for Scheifele’s winner.
“This was the game that he saw some real strong shooters,” Maurice said of his goaltender. “He consistently looks big in the net. He’s had a good progression here to this game. He’s got a lot of support in his first game, saw more pucks in his second game and he saw a few more from some high-end skill tonight.”
The Jets are back in action tomorrow afternoon against the Chicago Blackhawks.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com