Blackhawks jump all over Jets
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Winnipeg Jets came into Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks riding a seven-game winning streak at Bell MTS Place and a goaltender with the best home save percentage in the NHL.
The Blackhawks, apparently, did not read the local sports section.
In a dominant effort that reminded everybody that the Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups in the past seven years, the visitors scored on their first two shots and three of their first five, and were never threatened the rest of the way in a 5-1 victory.
It was Chicago’s fourth consecutive win while the Jets (18-9-5) have lost four of five. It was Winnipeg’s first regulation loss in 12 home games.
Corey Crawford stopped 27 shots in the Chicago net while Connor Hellebuyck, who looked nothing like one of the league’s top tenders on this night, stopped 25 pucks directed his way. In fairness to him, it was his first regulation loss at home this season, dropping his record to 11-1-1.
The Blackhawks (16-11-5) received goals from Patrick Kane, Michal Kempny, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tommy Wingels and Nick Schmaltz. Nikolaj Ehlers responded for the Jets.
Perhaps the only reason Hellebuyck wasn’t pulled was that his back-up, Steve Mason, was only taken off the injured list Monday after suffering a concussion a couple of weeks ago and has yet to see any game action.
Kane, who scored one of the easiest goals of his life in the second period, also added an assist, in what he described as his team’s biggest win of the year.
“We were coming up against maybe the hottest team in the league. They’re playing great this season, they’re a tough team to play in this building, they’re very fast and we couldn’t have asked for a better start,” Kane said.
“We’re obviously happy coming off three straight wins at home. We knew this was a real test for us against a good team. I think we were ready to play. You beat a team like this and we kind of prove to ourselves that we’re right there.”
Kane’s coach, Joel Quenneville, agreed. Sort of.
“For 40 minutes, for sure (it was our best stretch of the season). We’ve been talking about putting a 60-minute game together and (Crawford) was great in the third and kept them from getting too close. We liked the balance of the four-line rotation for the 40 minutes,” Quenneville said.
Kane’s goal, his 12th of the season, was a thing of beauty thanks to Nick Schmaltz.
After Hellebuyck was unable to corral a rebound on a shot from the point, the center picked up the loose puck, whirled around and found Kane to the left of the Jets goal with a no-look pass. With no defenders within a country mile and Hellebuyck way out of his crease, he calmed deposited the puck in the yawning cage.
“(Kane) is always on that right side of the ice in the zone, so it’s kind of an instinct play. I got kind of lucky and found his tape and he made a great shot,” Schmaltz said.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler admitted that his team came out “a little flat” to find themselves down 3-0 before the game was 11 minutes old.
“It’s an uphill climb but it isn’t insurmountable,’’ he said. “We just couldn’t find a way to get it back on our terms. We just needed to find a way to pop one in and just change the momentum, change the feel of the game. Any chances we had, they just weren’t going in. We just weren’t able to respond.”
Wheeler wasn’t about to read any doom and gloom into one game in a long season, however.
“Aww shoot, we’ve already (bounced back) probably five times this year,’’ he said. “It’s not all roses. These guys (Chicago) are behind us in the standings but they’re a good hockey team. I think everyone we play is a good hockey team. It’s the best league in the world. When you come out flat, you shouldn’t expect anything less than being down 3-0.”
And no, the Blackhawks didn’t read the Winnipeg papers after Thursday’s morning skate.
“We’re not really talking about that stuff,” Kane said. “We worry about what we have to do in here. Obviously, be respectful of your opponent. We know what they’ve accomplished so far this year and the way they’ve been playing. That was all we really needed.”
Schmaltz said he had no idea the Jets had won seven straight at home.
“That’s pretty cool. They always come out hard here. I thought we matched them from the start and got in on the forecheck and created some turnovers and got some pucks to the net and got a few bounces tonight,” he said.
NOTES: The Jets placed D Dustin Byfuglien on the injured list with a lower-body ailment and called up Julian Melchiori from AHL Manitoba to replace him. ... The Jets have the third-best face-off percentage this season at 52.7 percent. ... Chicago C Jonathan Toews grew up in Winnipeg and has an arena named after him. ... Chicago RW Patrick Kane scored his 50th career game-winning goal Tuesday versus Florida. He’s fourth in franchise history, trailing Bobby Hull (98), Stan Mikita (84) and Toews (56). ... Blackhawks G Corey Crawford ranks third in the NHL in goals-against average (2.20) and second in save percentage (.933).