Tonight, it was one of the most unlikely of heroes – a ‘heart and soul’-type – stepping up and making a play.
The biggest play.
Chris Thorburn broke a 2-2 tie with 8:51 left in the third period, lifting the Winnipeg Jets to a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at MTS Centre.
Thorburn outmuscled Coyotes defenceman and Winnipeg native Michael Stone down low before bringing the puck to the front of the net and burying a backhander past Anders Lindback.
“The timing of it ranks high,” Thorburn said of the goal – his third of the year, but the most pivotal by far. “Just to chip in and help the team get a victory that we needed considering the stretch we’ve had of late, it’s huge.
“I haven’t done it often, but I saw the two guys — Wheeler and Burmistrov — go before me. They forced up ice and I was like, ‘If I get a chance, I’m going to do that.’ I did and I got lucky with the defenceman falling down and myself having more time than I thought I would have. I was able to sneak one by him.”
Thorburn had all kinds of time to pick his point with nary a Coyote in sight.
“Chris does the same thing whether he plays three minutes or he plays 15 minutes,” Maurice said. “He’s such a good pro here. He had an outstanding training camp and he’s been very, very consistent.
“He’s in that (Mark) Scheifele mode. He’s been feeling it.”
Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien scored the others for the Jets.
Ondrej Pavelec made 20 saves through two periods, but did not return for the third with a lower-body injury after being bulled over by Shane Doan late in the middle frame.
Michael Hutchinson stopped all seven shots he faced in relief.
Doan and Connor Murphy tallied for the ‘Yotes.
The Jets opened the scoring early in the first period, with the team’s hottest line connecting for the icebreaker. After picking the pocket of Antoine Vermette, Scheifele cut to the middle and fired a shot through the wickets of the goaltender, giving him eight on the year and three in his last two games.
The Jets have now scored first in six games this season, and with the win tonight, improve to 5-1 in those contests.
The Coyotes levelled the score within minutes, capitalizing on a questionable penalty call to Tyler Myers. Stationed in front, Doan tipped home a Mikkel Boedker point shot, making it a 1-1 game nine-and-a-half minutes in.
Arizona took a 2-1 lead at 15:49 as Murphy wired a shot from the left point around the towering Martin Hanzal, who timed the 6-foot-6, 226-pound screen perfectly.
Shots on goal favoured the Coyotes 10-9 after one period of play.
The Jets evened the score at 12:48 of the second as Byfuglien worked the give-and-go with Andrew Copp, with the big man making no mistake on the return feed, snapping it high, blocker side on Lindback.
“It’s just one of those plays that you’ve got to trust your forwards,” Byfuglien said. “I’m not planning on going all the way to the net. If (Copp) makes that play, he makes it. If he doesn’t, I’m spinning back to the blue line and keeping it simple.”
Byfuglien was named the second star, finishing the night with 24 minutes, 32 seconds of ice time. He had three shots, two hits and two penalty minutes.
“It seemed like a really unusual game of momentum,” Maurice said. “We came out really strong. I liked it; we got the lead. … To get a big goal from Dustin to shift (the momentum) back in favour, and then it was back-and-forth in that third. It was a tough game for a team that has just one won recently, but they handled it really well on the bench and they gave themselves a chance to win.”
Late in the period, Doan crashed heavily into Pavelec after cutting the net off the rush. After being tended to by Head Athletic Therapist Rob Milette, Pavelec stayed in the game and made another series of saves before the end of the stanza, but was unable to continue following the intermission.
“I won’t have anything for you about Pavelec until tomorrow,” Maurice said.
“We’ll take the 3-2 goal from anybody, but it’s really great when you get a heart and soul guy to do it,” Maurice said. “Just all effort.”
Added Scheifele: “It was an unbelievable goal by him. At that time of the game and the effort that he put into that goal, it was awesome to see.”
The Jets were the better of the two teams in the third period, outshooting the Coyotes 9-7, with many of the visitors’ attempts coming late and with the goalie pulled.
The Jets are back in action on Monday night, wrapping up a three-game home stand against the division rival Colorado Avalanche.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com