In the first half of 2019-20, the Winnipeg Jets have proven those who wrote them off before the season even began wrong. Despite facing a ton of adversity in the offseason and plenty more during the first 38 games of the campaign, the Jets sit at 21-14-2. Going into the season, it seemed more likely they’d have the inverse of their current record.
While all their victories have brought exciting moments, here are five games in particular that stand above the rest.
5: A Team-Catalyzing Comeback — Oct. 4
A blowout loss and an 0-2 start seemed a foregone conclusion for the team that began the regular season with a boatload of unknowns.
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Down 4-0 to the New Jersey Devils midway through the second at Prudential Center — a day after falling 6-4 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden — they proved for the first time in 2019-20 that they could not be counted out of any game.
Dmitry Kulikov scored with 11 seconds left in the second period, then the Jets exploded for three in the third — getting goals from Jack Roslovic, Mathieu Perreault, and Neal Pionk — to draw even. After overtime solved nothing, captain Blake Wheeler put a slick backhander over MacKenzie Blackwood to complete the comeback.
The win was an early team catalyzer on a squad that featured six players who didn’t play for the Jets a year prior — Pionk said it provided “instant bonding” and “confidence as a group.” (from ‘Jets storm back in Jersey,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 10/04/19.) The Jets went out for a big team bonding dinner after, perhaps the starting point for how tight-knit they’ve become.
4: Jets Rally Around Perreault — Dec. 15
The Jets turned a bad situation into a good result and picked up their teammate in a 7-3 Dec. 10 afternoon drubbing of the Philadelphia Flyers.
With the Jets tenuously hanging onto a 2-1 lead in the second period, the Flyers’ Joel Farabee delivered a ridiculously late, behind-the-play headshot to versatile veteran winger Mathieu Perreault and was ejected; Perreault was forced to leave the game and remains sidelined for an indefinite period.
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Instead of engaging in vengeful extracurriculars, the Jets instead hit the Flyers where it hurt — the scoreboard. They scored twice on the five-minute power play — first, on a blast from Wheeler, and second, on a Mark Scheifele one-timer from the slot that Wheeler set up perfectly — before scoring twice more, 16 seconds apart, in the minute after the major expired. The four goals in less than five minutes were the second-fastest the Jets have ever scored that number.
“For us, I don’t want to say it paid off but we were pretty upset with that hit and I think the power play came out and handled that, it’s a good sign for us. I hope Frenchie’s OK,” Wheeler said post-game.
3: Hellebuyck Steals the Show at the Shark Tank — Nov. 1
It wasn’t a gorgeous game from a team perspective — in fact, the Jets played downright terribly — but Connor Hellebuyck’s out-of-sight performance warrants this contest taking the number-three spot.
Hellebuyck’s stolen many games this season with his Vezina-calibre play and is undeniably their MVP up to this point. His career-high 51-saves — which helped the Jets capture an unlikely 3-2 win — is a perfect example of how integral he’s been.
The Sharks furiously fired 53 shots on the big backstop, including 28 in the second period alone, but only got two by him. Hellebuyck’s best save of the night, a toe stop on Brent Burns in the dying seconds, allowed Nikolaj Ehlers’ go-ahead goal scored with 1:24 to go to stand as the game winner.
“I’ll definitely remember this one,” Hellebuyck said post-game. “This will definitely be a record for a while. I’m going to cherish this one and then move on. Definitely some of my best. I had one in the AHL where it was a 50-save shutout. That one’s up there, too. But this one’s definitely going to be up there”(from ‘Hellebuyck backstops Jets to 3-2 win over Sharks,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 11/2/19.)
The win evened the Jets’ record at 7-7-0 and was the start of one heck of a month. The Jets set a new team record with 10-wins in November and by the time the calendar turned to December, sat at 16-9-1 and had found their identity as a scrappy, hardworking squad that pushes through adversity together.
2: Jets Outshine Stars with Grey Cup in the House — Dec. 3
In this contest, the Jets looked akin to their 2017-18 and 2018-19 squads that effortlessly outclassed other teams using sheer talent.
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After plenty of razor-wire one-goal victories, it was nice to see the Jets truly break out and thump their opponent. Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Josh Morrissey all scored to open up a 3-0 lead. After Miro Heiskanen cut the lead to two, Patrik Laine — who had taken a boneheaded cross-checking penalty to negate a Jets’ power play, finished off a textbook passing play with less than a minute to go in the second left to make up for his indiscretion. Scheifele finished off the scoring in the third with his tenth of the season.
It was undoubtedly one of the Jets most complete victories of the season, with the CBC suggesting the hockey club fed off a championship vibe. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ hometown heroes Andrew Harris and Nik Demski, along with quarterback Chris Streveler — who helped the football club to their team’s first CFL championship in 29 years on Nov. 24 — brought the glistening Grey Cup to ice level for a ceremonial puck drop.
“We brought the boys some magic,” running back Harris, who was named the Grey Cup’s MVP and Most Valuable Canadian, and sported an Ehlers jersey, said. (from ‘Bombers bring Grey Cup shine to Jets,’ Winnipeg Sun, 12/03/19).
1: Wheeler Sets Franchise Points Record in Home-State Statement Win — Dec. 21
Oh captain, my captain! The Jets’ hardworking, earnest leader — who has been a rock in their nine seasons since relocating from Atlanta — tied and broke Ilya Kovalchuk’s record by recording his 615th and 616th points with the Thrashers/Jets franchise.
The tying point came on a first-period shorthanded goal that put the Jets up 1-0 and got them going. The go-ahead point came on a cross-ice seam pass to Patrik Laine on a third-period power play the latter one-timed home.
The game was important for more than just Wheeler — it was a statement win that came amid a rough stretch. The Jets had lost three out of their last four — and had dropped 6-3 and 4-1 decisions earlier in the week at Bell MTS Place, two games where their flaws were on full display — and came into Minnesota to face a Wild team with just one regulation home loss all season.
With another loss, no one could deny that using the word “slump” was unjustified. Stopping the losing streak at two was especially important in retrospect since they lost their next and final game before the holiday break to the Montreal Canadiens 6-2 and were a tire fire defensively.
But the Jets had more jump than their nearest geographical opponent in every way and it showed as they rolled to a 6-0 victory and kept their perfect matinee record intact (they are 6-0 in afternoon starts.) Laine scored twice, Morrissey got three assists, and Hellebuyck made 31 saves for his third shutout of the season.
Wheeler’s franchise-record points puck wasn’t the only one the Jets’ plucked from behind Wild netminder Alex Stalock for safekeeping: shortly after, Jansen Harkins, making his NHL debut, recorded his first big-league point as he set up Logan Shaw with a slick centring pass.
Hilariously, in a walk-off interview with Sean Reynolds after the first intermission, Wheeler didn’t even remember he’d tied the record. After being asked what the moment meant to him, he sported a puzzled expression and replied “uhh… what are talking about?”
The 33-year-old was more well-spoken post-game, saying “I just feel fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had here, the guys I get to play with every single night. It’s not going to be long before one of these guys on this team passes me, and that’ll be a good moment, too.”
“For a guy that works that hard every day, you deserve to have good things happen. So to become the all-time leader in a big game for us, in his home state, to have his Mom and Dad here, that’s fantastic for him and he earned it,” head coach Paul Maurice added.
Most Exciting Games Yet to Come?
It’s hard to believe, with all the storylines that have surrounded the Jets, that they still have more than half the season to go. Last season, they fell apart badly down the stretch and ultimately did not live up to high expectations.
While the Jets have regressed lately and have lost four of their last six, ultimately, only time will tell if they can snag a playoff berth for the third straight campaign. Whether they do or not, there’s bound to be more exciting games in the next 44. A home-and-home against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues is only the start.