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Winnipeg Jets Victorious in Wild Affair With Minnesota

WINNIPEG, MB. – Coming off of a big 4-2 road victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday, the Winnipeg Jets hoped to build upon their demonstrated goal-scoring abilities on Sunday afternoon. Although potting the game’s opening four goals, somehow the offensive-minded Jets allowed the visiting Minnesota Wild to claw right back into the game. Winnipeg did not give up however, and kept the game close for the duration, ending it all with a glorious goal and a spectacular flurry of saves in the dying moments.

Having already lost all four previous games against their closest geographical opponent, the Jets were out for revenge in the final matchup between the Central Division rivals. With the Jets wearing their white, blue and red Heritage Classic jerseys at home for the third time this season, Minnesota wore their greens on the road.

Winnipeg broke out for three first period goals on Sunday, helping themselves to a 3-0 lead after the opening frame. Just two-and-a-half minutes into the game, Chris Thorburn and Chris Stewart brought the Manitoba crowd to its feet as they squared off at centre ice in a true heavyweight throwdown. Both combatants landed a handful of shots before linesman, Ryan Gibbons broke up the donnybrook.

As is typically the case, fights lead to goals, and Sunday was no exception, as the Jets found the scoreboard just over a minute after the exchange of blows.

Andrew Copp got the scoring going for the Jets at just 3:47 of the opening frame, as he buried his ninth goal of the season from the slot, off of a great set-up pass from Adam Lowry. Lowry then took matters into his own hands finishing off a nifty passing play with the man advantage, finding the twine for his 13th goal of the season.

Lowry’s marker – just two minutes after Copp’s opening goal – prompted Wild Head Coach, Bruce Boudreau to call his team’s 30-second timeout. Although hoping for a response from his bewildered squad, the Wild were unable to deliver on Boudreau’s command.

During a four-on-four opportunity, Jets’ defenceman, Ben Chiarot took the puck wide along Minnesota’s half-wall before driving hard to the net. After putting it on goal, the puck took a few bounces before favourably landing past the Wild goal line, for Chiarot’s second of the season. The Jets held onto their three-goal lead for the duration of the first period, despite being outshot 13-7.

Less than five minutes in the second period, the Jets struck again. After Blake Wheeler carried the puck into the Wild zone, he found a pinching Dustin Byfuglien, who wired a backhand shot bar-down from the top of the circle, bringing the hometown fans to their feet for the fourth time of the night.

The assist was Wheeler’s 500th point of his career. Along with a brief milestone alert for visiting forward, Eric Staal’s 1000th career NHL game, Wheeler had a live image and note regarding his 500th point displayed on the jumbrotron shortly after the Byfuglien goal.

Comfortably up four goals, the Jets seemed to have the game in the bag. What could possibly go wrong?

The game’s momentum took a drastic shift in the second half of the middle frame. In an unfortunate set of circumstances, Jets’ netminder Connor Hellebuyck and defencemen, Mark Stuart and Ben Chiarot experienced some confusion and mis-communication behind the net following a Minnesota dump in.

With neither defenceman or the netminder picking up the loose puck, Wild forward, Zach Parise calmly the disc and found a wide-open Charlie Coyle, who made no mistake beating the out of position, Hellebuyck.

Next, two Wild goals in a span of 29 seconds severely dampened the mood in the MTS Centre. First, Wild captain, Miko Koivu set up Mikael Granlund perfectly at the side of the Jets’ net for an easy tap in. Then Chris Stewart jammed in his 12th goal of the campaign, right off of Byfuglien.

Much to the demise of Winnipeg, Stewart scored his second of the period on another broken play, with 12 seconds remaining. Stewart’s 13th came on the Wild’s 22nd shot of the period, and 35th shot of the game. Although giving up four goals on eight shots, the 36-18-3 Dubnyk calmed down throughout the stretch, showing the Jets why he is ranked in the top five of all four major goaltending statistic categories.

The game remained deadlocked at four through the midway point of the third period. With 7:17 to go, a scrambling Mark Scheifele sent the puck to the newest Jets’ defenceman, Brian Strait on the point. Strait looked cross-ice to Morrissey who one-timed his fifth of the season past Dubnyk along the ice, restoring the Jets’ lead, 5-4.

Although struggling to maintain control of the puck, the Jets held off the Wild for the remaining seven minutes, including a six-on-four penalty kill with Dubnyk on the Wild bench, pulled for the extra attacker. Michael Hutchinson made numerous desperation game-saving stops including a flailing goal-line stand with just a second or two left on the clock, preserving Winnipeg’s win.

Hutchinson stopped all 10 pucks he faced, and picked up his fifth win of the season in the process. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, and just plain bad luck, Hutchinson’s last win came three months back on December 22nd of 2016. His last start was January 16th. One could expect that Head Coach, Paul Maurice will give Hutchinson another kick at the can within the coming week.

With Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba and Paul Postma all sitting out for the home team, Brian Strait made his Winnipeg Jets debut on Sunday. Wearing number 47 and finding himself paired on the blueline with Josh Morrissey, Strait finished the night a plus one with one assist. Julian Melchiori also drew back into the lineup, and served to the left of Dustin Byfuglien.

The slumping Minnesota Wild have now lost five straight games, winning just two of 10 in March. The Jets, who have now won two in a row, will look to keep things going on Tuesday as they welcome Philadelphia to the MTS Centre. But the visitors will not be looked upon as a pushover, as Winnipeg has lost six straight games to the Flyers, dating back four years.

Following Tuesday’s matchup with Philly, the Jets will head out west on the road to play the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Winnipeg will then return home for an all-Canadian Western Conference matchup with the Vancouver Canucks next Sunday evening. Action from the MTS Centre will get underway on Tuesday at 7:00 P.M. and the game can be viewed live on TSN3.

– Carter Brooks, MyToba Sports

Photos by James Carey Lauder/MyToba

Carter Brooks is a news writer/reporter and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Carter spent time with The Hockey News Magazine in Toronto, and currently writes sports for Game On Magazine and SEVEN Magazine. On top of reading and writing, coaching hockey is his favourite pastime.
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