WINNIPEG, MB – The St. Louis Blues rolled into Manitoba’s capital for a Central Division showdown with the Winnipeg Jets on Friday and put a sudden halt to the home team’s eight-game point streak. After absolutely thrashing Colorado 6-1 Thursday evening, the visiting Blues did not skip a beat, taking no prisoners on Friday with a 5-2 victory over the Jets.
Following a 16-game absence with an upper-body injury, Winnipeg’s 2016-17 point scoring leader Mark Scheifele returned to the Jets’ lineup Friday evening. His announced introduction from P.A. announcer Jay Richardson was met with a raucous cheer. Scheifele’s return marked the end of captain Blake Wheeler’s placement at centre ice. Wheeler shifted back to the right side, while Patrik Laine made up the other third of the top line on the left wing.
A very low-offence first period was highlighted, err… lowlighted by a total of 14 shots between the two highly-potent Western Conference juggernauts. St. Louis registered nine shots on Connor Hellebuyck, while Jake Allen turned aside all five pucks that he faced in the opening frame.
Friday’s matchup marked the first game at Bell MTS Place since December 17th in which the first period ended without a goal from either squad. Oddly enough, the last time that there was a scoreless first period, the Jets once again were hosting the Blues.
Both prior matchups between the Blues and Jets this season had been home-ice shutouts, with St. Louis winning 2-0 at Scottrade Center on December 16th, before facing off the following day in Winnipeg in a game that saw the Jets prove victorious, 4-0.
Friday’s game was a different story.
Some miscommunication in the defensive zone cost Winnipeg the first goal of the game. After running around for an extended period of time, the Jets sat back and watched as the Blues pumped another two quick strikes past Hellebuyck, jumping ahead to a 3-0 lead mid-way through the second period.
It took until the final minute of the second frame for Winnipeg to wake up. Youngsters Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor took it into their own hands to ensure that the Jets wouldn’t face their second shutout of the season to St. Louis.
In picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone, Roslovic turned on his afterburners and blew by three St. Louis defenders before finding Connor wide open in the slot. The former Hobey Baker nominee picked his spot and beat Jake Allen for his 18th of the season, putting Winnipeg on the scoreboard.
Although providing a faint glimmer of hope to the 16,345 Jets fans packed inside Bell MTS Place, the third period did not supply much of an opportunity for the Winnipeg Jets to get back in the game.
With 8:21 to go, Patrik Laine scored on what was quite possibly the hardest shot of his professional career. Although not quite tearing through the twine, the puck very well may have exited the net faster than it entered. Had the Blues put a 4x8 sheet of medium density fibre in front of their goal, the Finnish sophomore would have certainly ripped a hole right through it.
“He can shoot the puck harder than anyone in the league,” said netminder Jake Allen following the game. “I’d put him up there against anyone; it isn’t even close…He’s got a laser.”
Just one minute after Laine’s energizing strike, Vladamir Tarasenko popped in his second goal of the game – this one a rebound he put top-shelf following a Jay Bouwmeester scoring chance. The Blues’ fourth goal came with 7:15 to go, putting a dagger in the heart of Winnipeg’s comeback. Jaden Schwartz added an empty net marker with two seconds to go in the third, sealing the deal for St. Louis.
Friday evening’s test marked the mid-way point in Winnipeg’s franchise record 10-game homestand. The Jets are currently 3-1-1 through five games and boast an incredible 20-4-2 record at home this season. Prior to Friday’s matchup, the Jets had only lost one home game in regulation since October.
Next up for Winnipeg will be the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon in a 2:00 P.M. matinee. The Jets will then welcome the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche to Bell MTS Place on Tuesday and Friday, respectively. Sunday’s contest vs. the Blueshirts can been seen live on TSN3.
Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post
Photos by James Carey Lauder