WINNIPEG, MB – The Chicago Blackhawks rolled into Manitoba Thursday evening for a Central Division tilt with the hometown Winnipeg Jets. In a game highlighted by a near-ridiculous slew of first period goals, Winnipegger Jonathan Toews and the visiting Hawks were seemingly unable to find their mojo, ultimately falling to the Boys in Blue 6-2.
Although beginning the first period rather awkwardly with a goal against just 11 seconds in, the Jets rebounded exceptionally, scoring five goals on13 shots on net in what was a first period for the ages.
With the majority of the game determined in the opening frame, Winnipeg easily cruised to a much-needed 6-2 victory, on the heels of three straight losses on the road.
Immediately off the game’s opening faceoff, Chicago’s Brandon Saad walked the puck into Winnipeg’s zone before ripping it past Connor Hellebuyck short-side. Jets’ Head Coach Paul Maurice promtly challenged the play, and although clearly appearing off-side, Dan O’Halloran’s call stood, and the Jets were charged with a delay-of-game penalty.
After a successful penalty kill, Winnipeg stormed back with quick strikes from Paul Stastny and Joel Armia. Patrik Laine recorded quite possibly the prettiest secondary assist of all-time on Stastny’s strike, dipsy doodling the puck inside and around Saad before breaking the puck up ice.
Laine made history with his first period assist, as he extended his current NHL-best point streak to 14 games – the most ever by a teenager in the history of the NHL. Laine currently has 16 goals and 24 points over his last 14 games.
Jack Roslovic, Bryan Little and Kyle Connor also found the twine before the first period came to a close – much to the pleasure of the hometown crowd.
Although only outshooting Chicago 13-11 in the opening frame, the Jets’ shooting percentage was operating at an all-time high. Hawks’ starting netminder Anton Forsberg found himself riding the pine following Winnipeg’s third goal. Backup tendy J.F. Berube did not fare much better than Forsberg, allowing two goals on seven shots.
The visiting Blackhawks picked up the only goal of a rather calm second period, as Winnipeg-born Patrick Sharp tapped one past Hellebuyck on a great John Hayden centering pass from behind the Jets’ goal. Winnipeg produced one shot more than Chicago in the second period, bringing the game total to 23-20 for the Jets.
Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor fired home an empty netter late in the third period for his second goal of the game, and 25th of the season. Connor now only trails the injured Brock Boeser in rookie goal scoring, sitting just four goals behind his fellow American – a mark he very well may surpass.
“Going into the season I didn’t really set any expectations numbers wise,” Connor said. “I went at it with an open mind and just tried to work hard and prove myself every game. If (30 goals) happens, it happens. I’m just trying to focus on the game and help the team win.”
Although letting in the first shot of the game, Jets’ goaltender Connor Hellebuyck rebounded nicely, finishing the night with 24 saves on 26 total shots against.
“I have all the confidence in the world with these guys,” Hellebuyck said. “We are a great offensive team, and sometimes the first shot goes in; it’s not that big of a deal. Even in practice, sometimes the first shot goes in. I actually prefer it that way, so then I can work on a shutout the rest of the way.”
Winning will be the name of the game going forward for Winnipeg, as the Jets look to build off of Thursday’s strong effort in the remaining games of their six-game homestand. Winnipeg will do battle with Dallas on Sunday, Los Angeles on Tuesday and Anaheim on Friday – all at Bell MTS Place – before concluding their homestand against Nashville and Boston the following week.
Sunday’s game against Dallas can be seen live on Sportsnet at 6:30 P.M. Central, while Tuesday’s and Friday’s 7:00 P.M. matchups can be viewed on TSN3.
Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post
Photos by James Carey Lauder