Disaster Averted, Ehlers, Jets Shut Down Hurricanes’ Attack Saturday

WINNIPEG, MB – It took a full 60 minutes, and it wasn’t pretty, but with the help of 21-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers, the Winnipeg Jets dodged a bullet… err a hurricane on Saturday night.

Following a strong road trip that saw the Winnipeg win two of three games, including their final two stops in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Jets welcomed the 1-0-1 Carolina Hurricanes to Bell MTS Place on Saturday evening.

Coming off of an overtime loss in their home opener to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Hurricanes – who had only played a grand total of two games so far this season – were looking for revenge against a Jets squad that hadn’t seen its inter-conference competitors in nearly a full calendar year.

The last Winnipeg/Carolina matchup took place on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 when the Jets dropped a 3-1 decision to the ‘Canes in Raleigh. Winnipeg earlier beat Carolina 5-4 in overtime last October.

It took nearly half the opening frame for either team to really find any sort of rhythm in a slow moving first period. Following a successful penalty kill, Jets’ sophomore sensation, Patrik Laine got the offence going with a slick stick-to-skate deke that resulted in the first goal of the game. Picking up the loose puck, Nikolaj Ehlers circled the Hurricanes’ net and found Bryan Little alone in the slot. He hammered his first of the season past Carolina netminder Scott Darling.

Less than two minutes later, Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner responded with an absolute beauty of a shot for his second marker of the season. With Mathieu Perreault in the box for slew-footing, Carolina wasted little time making the Jets pay. Just 31 seconds into their man advantage, Noah Hanifin found a wide open Skinner who roofed a heat-seeker past Jets’ goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck – knotting the game up at ones.

Saturday’s tilt was Skinner’s 500th career NHL game. Now halfway to his silver stick, the 25-year-old set a Hurricanes record as the youngest player to surpass 499 games played, leapfrogging current ‘Canes General Manager, Ron Francis in the process. Skinner has scored 182 goals and 332 points in his 500 game career thus far.

The Hurricanes outshot the Jets 10-8 in the opening frame, but the teams remained deadlocked with one goal apiece heading into the second period.

The second period was nothing more than an eye sore for either team. It took until the 17-minute mark for the Jets to eclipse one shot in the frame. Carolina responded with eight shots of their own, upping their lead to 18-13.

For the second straight home game, the most entertainment of the period came from an in-arena special during a television timeout. One ‘lucky’ contestant was invited to guess the names of as many past NHL legends as he could – as prompted on screen – in exchange for cash. After incorrectly identifying Scott Stevens, Marcel Dionne, Joe Sakic and Pavel Bure amongst others, the ‘fan’ was booed off the stage – but only after he collected his $50 reward.

The Jets nearly got themselves back on top early on in the third period, only to have a Mark Scheifele one-time opportunity denied by the glove hand of Scott Darling.

Finally the Jets found the twine following an individual effort by Ehlers. After carrying the puck through nearly the entire Hurricane squad, the high-flying Dane was rewarded with a perfect setup from Blake Wheeler. Ehlers made no mistake finding an opening with a quick one-time wrist shot, scoring his fifth goal of the season, and restoring Winnipeg’s one-goal lead with 13 minutes to play in the third.

Much to the displeasure of the Winnipeg Jets’ faithful, the third period featured many suspect calls from Marc Joannette and his referee crew. Following two brutal icing calls and a very questionable slashing call on Jacob Trouba, the fans voiced their displeasure with a powerful “Ref You Suck” chant.

Luckily for Winnipeg, the hometown boys were able to kill off the late penalty and prevailed in victory, clinging tightly to their one-goal lead. Hellebuyck led the way in stopping 28 of 29 Carolina shots, improving his record to 3-0-0 on the season. Ehlers picked up a goal and assist in the victory, upping his season points total to seven.

Unfortunately for the Jets, both Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov left Saturday’s game in the third period with lower body injuries and did not return. Winnipeg was forced to play the duration of the game with just 16 skaters. There was no update provided on the severity of either player’s ailment.

Next up for Winnipeg is a Tuesday evening tilt with the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, before hosting the Minnesota Wild on Friday. Both games can be viewed live on TSN3 at 7:00 P.M. local time.

– Carter Brooks, MyToba Sports

Photos by Star Roxas

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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