WINNIPEG – Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien had three points each to help the Jets rally from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits, but it wasn’t enough as the Chicago Blackhawks prevailed in overtime on a goal from Brent Seabrook.
After scoring the tying goal with just 4:45 to play in a wild, back-and-forth affair, Artemi Panarin dished off on a 2-on-1 early in overtime, setting up Seabrook for his fourth point of the night in a 5-4 win.
The Jets trailed the Hawks 3-2 after two, but three combined goals in the final frame helped the lead change hands five times by the end of the night.
After Byfuglien tied the game early in the third, Wheeler put the Jets in front with 8:21 to play, poking home a loose puck after the big man’s wraparound try sat free in the blue paint. For a while, it looked to be the winner – but the defending champs weren’t going quietly. Panarin’s second of the night tied it up 4-4, as he belted one-timer past Ondrej Pavelec after Patrick Kane found him with a dandy centering pass.
Kane, the NHL’s top point-getter, now has 96 on the year.
With 72 points, Wheeler has set a new career high, smashing his previous best (69) with four games to play.
“We’ve got two guys out there – Byfuglien and Wheeler – playing exceptionally well and exceptionally hard,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Neither one of them is playing for a contract. They’re not cheating for points; they’re doing it the right way … trying to lead by example. This has been an exceptionally difficult thing to go through. It’s been a long run here. It speaks volumes to their leadership and how driven they are. They come to the rink, they come to play every night in a really tough situation. It’s a great example for the young players.”
Still, Wheeler described his play of late as “kind of an empty feeling,” with the Jets out of the playoff race, when last year at this time they had the privilege of playing for the Cup.
“I’ve said it all year: I’ve done my best to give everything I have for 60 minutes,” he said. “I’ve figured out how to do that. A lot of hard work and a lot of prep goes into that. You hope that it rubs off on the guys. You hope they respect and appreciate what you’re trying to do out there. It’s not always pretty, but you want to stay doing the right things and playing the right way so that when you don’t get any bad habits. When next year starts you’re already dialled in, doing the right things. This time next year, hopefully we’re sitting where Chicago is sitting, licking our chops for the playoffs.”
Nic Petan got things rolling offensively, jamming home a loose puck to put the Jets on top at 8:36 of the first period. A centering pass initially went off the skate of linemate Joel Armia, but Petan found room between two defenders, plunging it short side on Chicago goalie Scott Darling. The goal snapped the rookie’s 20-game goal drought, dating back to the season opener, Oct. 8 in Boston.
The Blackhawks evened the score with a power-play goal at 14:39, ending an uncharacteristic oh-fer-26 run with the extra man. Panarin took a nice feed from Kane over at the far side, rifling a shot to the back of the cage.
The Hawks took a 2-1 lead with three to play in the period as Brandon Mashinter got a piece of a Teuvo Teravainen point shot, mailing it top shelf on Pavelec. Mashinter appeared to have made contact with the goalie just prior to the goal, but after a challenge initiated by the home team, the original call was upheld.
Moments after catching Trevor van Riemsdyk with a big hit, Wheeler tied the game at two, launching a backhander over Darling’s right shoulder after Nikolaj Ehlers found him alone in the slot.
“That’s a game you want to win,” Wheeler said. “You want to contribute to wins. I’m not really too proud of myself or anything like that (right now). At some point after the season, I’ll look back on it and be proud of the work I put in.”
While the Jets were the better team for much of the middle frame, the Hawks were definitely opportunistic, re-taking the lead with just 2:38 to play. Flying down the right side and challenging the D with a quick move to the middle, Kane fired a shot low, blocker side on Pavelec to the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career.
But the Jets weren’t going away. Fresh out of the penalty box, Dustin Byfuglien picked the corner on Darling after Wheeler found him the slot. The defenceman’s 18th of the season tied the game at three, mere seconds after the Jets killed a 38-second 5-on-3.
Earlier in the power play, Teravainen dented the far post with a blast between the hash marks. The initial call was a goal but after video review, play resumed, setting the stage for Byfuglien’s equalizer.
The teams traded goals in the back half of the third before the Hawks pulled away in overtime, recording the only three shots – including the winning goal.
“It was definitely a roller coaster,” said centre Mark Scheifele, who tallied an assist to extend his point streak to six straight games. “We score, they score, they score, we score. We both had our chances and it sucks being on the bad side of it, again.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com