Jets clinch playoff spot with feisty 3-1 win over Wild
ST. PAUL, Minn. –
The Winnipeg Jets have found their groove just in time, after stumbling through much of the winter.
With their spot in the NHL playoffs clinched, now Connor Hellebuyck can get a break.
Mark Scheifele scored his 42nd goal, Hellebuyck made 33 saves and the Jets secured the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.
“We battled our adversity. It might have taken us a little bit longer, but I think we figured ourselves out,” said Hellebuyck, who made his 13th consecutive start. “We have the character in the room, and now we know what our game is.”
Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton also scored for the Jets, who won for the fifth time in six games and eliminated Nashville from contention.
“It’s good we handled it ourselves,” said Scheifele, who scored for the third straight game. “We didn’t wait and put our future in another team’s hands.”
Kirill Kaprizov scored on a power play for his 40th goal early in the third period for the Wild, who lost their long-shot chance at home-ice advantage in the first round when Central Division leader Colorado went to overtime against Edmonton. Minnesota can’t catch the Avalanche or second-place Dallas.
Lowry gave the Jets the lead with just 3:53 elapsed when he knocked in a rebound for his second goal in as many games. Scheifele also scored on a rebound off Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Wild had a 13-4 advantage in shots on goal in the first period and 34-20 for the game, but Hellebuyck stepped up time after time.
“He won that game for us. The saves he made down the stretch were amazing,” Scheifele said.
Dewar’s snap shot off a rebound in front of a wide-open net hit the post early in the third period. Lowry hooked him to give the Wild another power play when Kaprizov finally converted, a few seconds after he hit the post twice from point-blank range.
The action was edgy and rough enough to be a playoff game, as Jets fourth-liner Saku Maenalanen frequently harassed Kaprizov. Maenalanen drew a high stick penalty on Kaprizov that gave the Wild a 5-on-3 power play, but it bridged the first intermission and momentum was lost after the long break.
The game really got ugly down the stretch. Jets coach Rick Bowness and Wild coach Dean Evason were even jawing at each other.
Ryan Hartman levelled Nikolaj Ehlers with an open-ice, shoulder-to-shoulder hit after Ehlers went after Kaprizov, and Hartman drew a double minor for roughing and interference. Lowry and Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves with 25 seconds left for good measure.
“Obviously last time we played them Kirill went down,” Hartman said. “They seem to target him sometimes so sometimes you’ve got to make a statement.”
Kaprizov suffered a scary lower-body injury against the Jets in Winnipeg on March 8, when he was hit hard and awkwardly from behind by 6-foot-7 defenceman Logan Stanley and missed the next 13 games. Stanley was a healthy scratch this time.
There were 51 penalty minutes doled out in the game, including 41 in the third period.
“They got really dirty. I don’t know why. We were playing hard. I guess they were playing hard too, but they were getting a little unnecessary,” Hellebuyck said. “I think maybe the refs let it get a little out of control. That’s playoff hockey right there.”
The Wild lost left wing Marcus Johansson to a midsection injury when he was cross-checked by Neal Pionk, who drew a five-minute major with 26 seconds to go.
“It’s stupid. It makes no sense. It’s frustrating for sure,” Evason said. “If you want to fight, fight.”
SCHEIF GOAL SCORER
Scheifele scored for the third straight game to move into a tie for ninth in the NHL in goals. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 37 career games against the Wild.
Jets: Play at Colorado on Thursday night. Winnipeg will face the No. 1 overall seed in the first round. Vegas, Edmonton, Colorado and Dallas are still alive for the top spot.
Wild: Play at Nashville on Thursday night. Minnesota will face Colorado or Dallas in the first round.
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