Jets clamp down on defense to beat Wild
SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Two nights after putting up a touchdown against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Winnipeg Jets found another way to win on the road, with defense.
Kyle Connor scored an early goal, and Connor Hellebuyck made 28 saves as the Jets beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 on Tuesday night.
Nikolaj Ehlers also scored late as the Jets (6-3-2) beat Minnesota for the second time in October. Winnipeg, which romped past the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1 on Sunday, has gone five consecutive games without a regulation loss (3-0-2).
“That’s what this team has struggled with the last two years, since I’ve been here. We haven’t been able to find a way to give ourselves a chance every single game,” Ehlers said. “We’ve done that the past couple games, so it feels good to see that we’ve made some big steps and some progress.”
The Wild (4-4-2) got 17 saves from goalie Alex Stalock and a second career goal from Luke Kunin but saw their two-game winning streak snapped.
The Jets got a power play in the opening minute of the game and appeared to score a power-play goal with just 47 seconds elapsed when Joel Armia tapped in a loose puck with traffic in front of Stalock. However, the on-ice officials immediate ruled no goal, calling a hand pass on the play. Winnipeg protested, but hand-pass calls are not reviewable.
“What they felt it was a hand pass and that would blow it down and negate it, so it’s also not reviewable,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said.
“It’s not knocked into the net with the hand, so the league can’t change it and clearly it showed it was the middle of the chest and not his hand, so it’s one of those breaks that goes against you in a game and we’re very fortunate that we ended up winning the hockey game and it wasn’t the one goal that cost us.”
Winnipeg got on the board for real with 7:10 elapsed in the first period when a long-range shot by Tyler Myers was redirected by Mark Scheifele at the top of the crease, then popped in by Connor for his second goal of the season.
The Jets killed two Wild power plays in the first and emerged up 1-0 with an 11-7 advantage in shots. Minnesota had a trio of power plays in the second and outshot Winnipeg 10-6 but still emerged trailing by a goal.
Winnipeg made it 2-0 in the opening minute of the third after an ugly turnover by Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. His no-look pass was picked up by Ehlers, who scored his team-leading seventh goal of the season, slipping a low shot past Stalock with the goalie prone.
“I’d like to have that one back maybe. As soon as you see that play develop, I kind of made up in my mind that I was going to come out and challenge this guy. Obviously the wrong play,” said Stalock, now 1-1-1 as a starter. “But I kind of made up my mind, said I was going, and turns out it didn’t work and they ended up getting the winner.”
Dumba was benched for the rest of the game.
“You know he just hasn’t been playing that well. He’s a good player that maybe I’ve set the bar pretty high for him and he hasn’t reached that bar,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I just thought that was an inexcusable play, and at some point you have to be accountable for your actions.”
Minnesota finally solved Hellebuyck with 14:24 to play in the third. Nino Niederreiter zipped a no-look pass from the corner to Kunin, who was at the top of the crease. The rookie’s quick wrist shot beat the Winnipeg goalie on the stick side.
NOTES: Tuesday’s game was the first time the Wild have played at home on Halloween since 2002, when they beat the San Jose Sharks in overtime on a goal by Sergei Zholtok, who died two years later. ... Jets G Connor Hellebuyck made his NHL debut at Xcel Energy Center on Nov. 26, 2015, earning his first win with 14 saves to beat the Wild 3-1. ... Minnesota LW Nino Niederreiter returned to the lineup and the team’s top line after being activated off injured reserve. He had missed six games with a high ankle sprain. ... Both teams will be at home for their next two games. The Jets host Dallas on Thursday and Montreal on Saturday. Minnesota hosts Montreal on Thursday and Chicago on Saturday.