WINNIPEG, MB – On a slippery Tuesday evening, the Winnipeg Jets kicked off a franchise record 10-game homestand from Bell MTS Place with a 3-1 victory against the league-best, Tampa Bay Lightning.
The much-anticipated inter-conference matchup featuring two of the highest scoring offences in the league did not fail to meet expectations. Although the total goal output may have been lower than some had earlier anticipated, the high-tempo powerhouses just took some time to warm their engines, which ended up giving Winnipeg an extra gear in the late stages Tuesday.
In an interesting decision, Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice decided to start Michael Hutchinson – his first NHL game of the season – over 26 game winner, Connor Hellebuyck. Both goaltenders were coming off all-star weekends – one of which was with the NHL in Tampa Bay, while the other was with the AHL in Utica.
Maurice’s gut-decision paid major dividends, as Hutchinson did not look out of place, considering he hadn’t started a regular season NHL game since April 4th, 2017.
Luckily for the Jets, Tampa Bay elected to start 2-7-0 backup Louis Domingue, as their regular number one netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy too, was coming off of a busy all-star weekend, and was given the opportunity to rest on Tuesday evening.
A slow opening frame saw an uncharacteristically low amount of high-percentage scoring chances from both the Jets and the visiting Lightning. Tampa – who currently sports the league’s highest goals-per-game percentage by a landslide – were held in check for 19:29 of the first period.
Following a great setup play by NHL All-Star Brayden Point, Tampa’s Matthew Peca (no relation to former New York Islander Michael Peca) put a slick move on Hutchinson, before beating the southpaw netminder upstairs in tight for his first goal of the campaign. Peca’s tally came with just 31 seconds remaining in the opening period, on the Bolts’ ninth and final shot of the frame. The Jets led their southern opponents in that regard, 10-9 after 20 minutes of action.
With Tampa Bay defenceman Brayden Coburn already in the box for tripping, teammate Chris Kunitz’s icing attempt found itself fluttering high over the glass, en route to a delay-of-game penalty, just 12 seconds into the Coburn minor. It took Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets only 35 seconds to capitalize on the ensuing five-on-three two-man advantage.
Blake Wheeler found Laine in his wheelhouse, who made no mistake hammering a one-timer past an out-of-position Domingue. With his 23rd goal of the season, and 12th power play marker, Laine matched Tampa’s Steven Stamkos atop the league leaderboard in power play goals scored.
A dominant second period for the Jets continued with a broken play leading to Kyle Connor’s 16th goal of the season – a loose puck scramble in the Tampa Bay goal mouth gave the Jets’ first lead of the game with 11 minutes to go in the middle fame. Winnipeg took it to the Tampa in the shot department in the second period of play, recording 15 shots, compared to Tampa’s six.
With Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Dmitry Kulikov, Shawn Matthias and Steve Mason all sidelined with various injuries, Winnipeg returned to the well once again and dressed a Tuesday night lineup consisting of recent call ups Tucker Poolman and Jack Roslovic, as well as regular odd-man out Ben Chiarot and Jack Roslovic. All three players appeared to fit in quite well with the Jets, contributing both offensively and defensively in Tuesday’s tight back-and-forth matchup.
Winnipeg added an insurance marker with just 5:25 to go in the third, as Bryan Little pounded his 11th goal of the season past a sprawling Domingue, handing Winnipeg its 30th victory of the season. The Jets now sit at 68 points, just three behind the Bolts for first in the league.
Tuesday’s tilt vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning also marked the unofficial start to the second half of the season, and the Jets who are now 30-13-8 will look to continue their hot-streak on Thursday as Brendan Leipsic, Cody Eakin and the Vegas Golden Knights make their second trip to Winnipeg to take on the Jets. Following Thursday’s test, Winnipeg will have Friday off, before playing host to their Central Division rival, Colorado Avalanche.
Thursday’s game from Winnipeg gets underway at 7:00 P.M. local time and can be seen live on TSN3, while Saturday’s matchup begins at 6:00 P.M. local, and can be viewed on Sportsnet.
Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post
Photos by James Carey Lauder