WINNIPEG, MB - Connor Hellebuyck set a franchise record for wins in a season, and Patrik Laine extended his point streak to 10 games as the Jets slipped past the New Jersey Devils 3-2 on Thursday night.
Joel Armia and Nikolaj Ehlers also found the back of the net for the Jets (41-17-9) who haven’t lost in regulation in their last eight road games. (7-0-1)
Laine entered the game scoring six of the last seven Jets goals including a hat trick in a 3-0 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, and he continued his assault on NHL goaltenders Thursday with Cory Schneider being the next victim.
Just over four minutes into the opening frame, the Finnish superstar picked up a loose puck near the top of the crease and slid the puck between the pads of Schneider for his 39th goal of the season. The goal was the 75th of his career, tying him with Sidney Crosby for fifth-most goals scored as a teenager, and is just two goals away from passing Wayne Gretzky (76 goals) for third place on the list. Former Jet Dale Hawerchuk is second on the list with 85 while former L.A. Kings center Jimmy Carson sits atop the list with 92 goals. Laine turns 20 on April 19.
With the goal, Laine extended his point streak to 10 games, registering 20 points and 14 goals during that span, including eight goals in the last four games and is now just one goal behind Alex Ovechkin (40) for the NHL lead.
Joel Armia would double the Jets lead midway through the second period after moving into the slot and wiring a wrist shot over the glove of Schneider, to give the Jets a 2-0 lead. Ben Chiarot collected an assist on the goal and extended his career-high point streak to five games. (1G, 4A)
Devils Kyle Palmieri would cut the lead in half when 19-year-old Nico Hischier picked up the puck in his own zone after a great backcheck and sent a tape-to-tape pass to Palmieri who was behind the Jets defence and broke in alone, lifting a shot glove side on Hellebuyck to make it 2-1.
Winnipeg would regain their two-goal lead when Nikolaj Ehlers stole a Devils clearing attempt in the slot, dropped a pass for Dustin Byfuglien who rifled a shot that hit the left post but bounced right to Ehlers who kicked the rebound to his stick and backhanded the puck into the open net, regaining the Jets two-goal lead. It was the 26th goal of the season for Ehlers, which sets a new career-high for the 22-year-old.
The celebration was short-lived as the Devils would pull within one just 1:12 later when Nico Hischier banged home a puck off the left skate of Connor Hellebuyck after a scramble at the side of the Jets net, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Hellebuyck shut the door the rest of the way, making 41 saves to pick up his 35th win of the season, setting the franchise single-season record for wins, passing Kari Lehtonen who went 34-24-9 for the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006-07.
In addition to the record-breaking night, Hellebuyck would also add an assist, and even more impressively is the first goaltender in 2018 to keep Taylor Hall off the scoresheet. The Devils forward had points in 19-straight games, the longest stretch in the NHL this season. He had also earned points in 26 consecutive appearances dating to Jan. 2. He missed three games before the All-Star break with a thumb injury. Hall had 38 points (18G, 20A) during the streak.
Even with the win the Jets couldn’t gain any ground on the Central Division leading Nashville Predators who won their 10th straight game on Thursday night. Winnipeg continues to trail Nashville by six points. For the Devils, they remain one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Jets welcomed back Brandon Tanev and Toby Enstrom to the lineup against the Devils, but lost Dmitry Kulikov in the second period and he did not return.
Winnipeg now improves to 3-0-0 on their season-long six-game road trip and will head to Philadelphia to face the Flyers in a lunchtime tilt on Saturday afternoon.
Bill Burfoot, Manitoba Post