In what many would consider the game of the year, the Jets and visiting St. Louis Blues battled it out for 65 minutes before a shootout was needed, ironically deciding playoff-style game between a pair of bitter division rivals.
Alexander Steen scored the winning goal in the shootout as the Blues left town with a 2-1 victory.
With the OT loss, the Jets fall to 31-20-12 and now have 74 points on the year.
“I didn’t think we were lacking in any area,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “That was the template of the game that we’ve been building toward since Vancouver (Feb. 3). Good pace, good intensity, disciplined, but hard.”
Mark Scheifele scored for the Jets, while Michael Hutchinson made 28 saves in regulation and overtime before surrendering a pair in the skills competition.
“I thought we played a great game tonight,” Hutchinson said. “We had a lot of energy. It’s unfortunate we only got one point tonight, but I thought we played really well start to finish.”
In what was expected to be a physical affair, the teams combined for 56 hits tonight. Mark Stuart, Adam Lowry and the Jets were the confrontational ones early on, laying the body where and whenever possible on the Blues, who, over the past few years, have consistently been one of the league’s heaviest hitters.
The Jets controlled the play for much of the opening 20 minutes, outshooting the Blues 11-4. Brian Elliott was good between the pipes, making a number of acrobatic stops – including one off the stick of Bryan Little, who was unable to cash on a 2-on-1 with Andrew Ladd – to preserve the scoreless tie through one.
Hutchinson was equally as strong at the other end, posting seven saves in the first 10 minutes of the middle frame after a strong push by the Blues, which included the game’s first power-play chance.
The physicality ramped up again midway through the second as Dustin Byfuglien levelled Patrik Berglund with a thunderous check along the boards, bringing many of the 15,016 on hand to their feet in appreciation of the defenceman’s third big hit of the night.
Ladd was the heavyweight champ of the night, however, registering a game-high 10 hits in over 23 minutes of ice time.
“Laddy’s an unbelievable leader for us,” Scheifele said. “He leads by example; he leads in the room. He’s the epitome of a leader and everyone in this room sees it.”
Newcomer Jiri Tlusty had a glorious opportunity late as he followed up on a rebound, but his bid for the icebreaker – a knuckler in tight – sailed high and off the glass.
In his Jets debut, Tlusty finished the night two shots on goal in 16:56 of ice time on a line with Scheifele and Drew Stafford.
“It was hard. It definitely wasn’t a regular game day,” Tlusty said. “I think I found my legs in the second (period) and after that, it was getting better and better. It’s hard traveling all day and jumping into a game right away, but it was good. I thought we played a solid game tonight.”
Within minutes, the Blues took advantage of the miss at the other end. With a 2-on-1 developing as a result of an ill-advised pinch at the offensive blue line, Berglund made no mistake off the rush, converting a feed from Paul Stastny to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 18:11.
Each team had 11 shots in the period, giving the Jets a 22-15 edge through two periods of play.
Dominating the game, the Jets weren’t going quietly.
Scheifele brought the game back on level footing with a beautiful goal early in the third period. Finishing off a centering pass from Ladd, No. 55 roofed a shot over the shoulder of Elliott in tight, making it a 1-1 game with his 10th of the season at 3:14.
“It’s the way these guys are wired in this room,” Scheifele said of the difficulty the Blues present. “Guys feed off the challenge to test themselves against the best in the league. We have so much character in this room. This game proved it.
“It’s another stepping stone. We want to play this way each and every game. We know we can play this way.
The teams traded power-play chances in overtime, where the goaltenders stole the show. Back and forth, blow for blow – it was riveting display of what a potential spring matchup would bring.
“That’s the way they play when they play well, and that’s the way we play when we play well. … In all the games we’ve played against them since last year, they’ve all looked like that.
“We had good penalty killing, we had great saves, had good chances. … I don’t have a lot of complaints tonight.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com