WINNIPEG, Manitoba — While the horses got the job done for the Winnipeg Jets in their 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at Bell MTS Place, it was one of the stable boys who made the biggest sacrifice.
Left winger Brandon Tanev, an infrequent contributor on the scoresheet, launched himself in front of not one but two late-game rockets from the point with his team down 2-1. That set the stage for some last-minute heroics from center Mark Scheifele, who netted the tying goal with a wrister from the slot with just 49 seconds remaining in regulation.
Scheifele, Patrik Laine and Bryan Little scored for the Jets (11-4-3) in the skills competition while Connor Hellebuyck stopped center Travis Konecny when the Flyers (8-8-3) were down to their last shooter for the win. Now firmly ensconced as the Jets No. 1 goalie, he stopped 31 shots for his 10th win of the season while Brian Elliot stopped 30 shots in the Flyers net.
Jets winger Mathieu Perreault, who was making his first start after missing 12 games, got the Jets on the scoreboard with a power-play marker in the second period while the Flyers got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on singles from forwards Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier.
Jets coach Paul Maurice wasn’t making any apologies for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
“We played a hell of a game. It was a great comeback win. This is the National (Hockey) League and they’re a good hockey team. Fighting back in this league from down two, tying a game, whether it’s a shootout, I don’t spend a lot of time on that part of it. I don’t feel lucky. I don’t feel fortunate. We didn’t like the power play but it scored us a goal. That’s the way it works over the long run. We didn’t like the first (Flyers) goal, but Brandon Tanev had a couple of huge blocks there,” he said.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who set up Scheifele for his team-leading 11th goal of the season, said the way the Jets handled the nearly game-long deficit shows the new maturity in its ranks.
“It would have been easy to open it up and try to tie it in five minutes. That would have been what we tried to do in years past,” he said.
“You never take two points for granted, so we’re obviously happy about it. We’re going to remain positive in here. A real positive thing is that on the nights you don’t have it, your goaltender plays great. You’ve got guys stepping up and putting their face in front of pucks and give us just enough time to tie it up to get the one point and then the boys had some dangle in the shootout. Great job to gut it out.”
The Flyers took some solace in finding the back of the net after being shut out in consecutive games but they knew they missed a golden opportunity for an all-important road win.
“Forty seconds left, we let one in. It’s tough,” Elliott said. “The goal we give up, it’s one faceoff in the offensive zone and it turns into a two-on-one and those are the things that bite you in the butt.”
Voracek, who had two points and also deked Hellebuyck out of his jock in the shootout, agreed.
“It hurts. In overtime, I think we were better. We had a lot of scoring chances. It sucks.,” he said.
It didn’t help that the Flyers were down to five defensemen for most of the game after Radko Gudas was handed a five-minute major for slashing and a game misconduct midway through the first period. It looked like he might be penalized for tripping when he dumped Mathieu Perreault deep in his own zone but he upped the ante by following through with a vicious slash across the right winger’s exposed neck after he had fallen to the ice.
“He got the meaty part of the neck. It could have been worse, I guess,” said Perreault, who received a minor penalty for high-sticking on the play. “He apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose. It wasn’t an accident. He’s been known for doing stuff like that, so I certainly don’t appreciate it.”
Maurice didn’t take the bait when asked about the infraction.
“It looked exactly the way you saw it. The league will handle that one,” he said.
Things started to physical in the second period, led by Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. The 260-pounder brought the crowd to its feet with a mid-ice hit on Flyers left winger Jordan Weal and a few minutes later he levelled right winger Michael Raffl deep in the Jets zone.
Even sniper Laine started throwing his weight around but the Flyers were having none of it from the six-foot-four Finn. Center Scott Laughton sent Laine head over heels into the boards right by the penalty box, which was handy because he was sent off for boarding.
Voracek was asked if he and his teammates may have become distracted in trying to out-hit the Jets, particularly Byfuglien.
“I don’t know. I’ve got two hits all season,” he said.
NOTES: The Flyers welcomed back rookie C Nolan Patrick to the lineup, who sat out nine games with a concussion. ... Flyers GM Ron Hextall is from Brandon, Manitoba, two hours down the road from Winnipeg, and played his junior hockey for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. ... Ulf Nilsson, legendary center of the WHA Jets “Hot Line,” along with Bobby Hull and Anders Hedberg, was the guest of Jets owner Mark Chipman in the press box. ... Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Arizona was the first time since March 19 that the Jets scored four goals and didn’t get any from Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele or Patrik Laine, a span of 13 games. ... Flyers D Robert Hagg ranked fifth in the NHL with a team-leading 61 entering Thursday.