Nikolaj Ehlers and the Winnipeg Jets made a profound statement in their 5-4 comeback win over the visiting Edmonton Oilers in Sunday’s Game 3. Battling back from what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit is the kind of once-in-a-career occurrence that can inspire and propel a collective to a deep playoff run.
The undeniable, potentially permanent, momentum shift will provide the irrepressible belief within Winnipeg’s camp that anything is possible. That idiom, after the odds-defying comeback they pulled off in Game 3, has never rung more true.
Nikolaj Ehlers Scores 2 in First Game Back, Including OT Winner
Ehlers’ enjoyed a dream return to the lineup, as the winger scored two goals, including the overtime winner. Ehlers, who hadn’t played in a month, made an immediate and significant impact on the proceedings.
Ehlers logged 15:46 of ice time and scored on two of his three shots on goal. Both goals were similarly placed, with Ehlers targeting Mike Smith’s glove side. His overtime winner blew past Smith in a flash, rocketing over the veteran netminder’s head.
In his post-game interview, Ehlers said that the impact he made upon his return to the lineup shattered even his own wildest expectations. That sentiment is shared by his coach, and most of the hockey world.
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg’s head coach, sang Ehlers’ praises in his post-game press conference, saying “It’s almost symbolic of the year he had with us, he had a brilliant year.”
Maurice went on to say that Ehlers’ performance was made all the more impressive by the winger’s ability to immediately assimilate to the breakneck speed and intense physicality of a playoff game after a lengthy injury layoff. To have a decisive impact in your first game back, let alone in the playoffs, is a rare and venerable feat.
3-Point Performances From Draisaitl and McDavid Not Enough to Ruin Jets’ Homecoming
Recent history suggested Winnipeg would not be able to neutralize the Oilers’ dangerous deuce, after completely nullifying Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid’s threat in Games 1 and 2, in three successive encounters. In the regular season, Draisaitl didn’t suffer a scoring drought lasting more than two games, while McDavid was only once kept off the scoresheet in three straight.
So what transpired in the first period of Game 3 was almost inevitable. Leon Draisaitl broke through Winnipeg’s admirable defensive resistance just 6:33 into the first period. That, unsurprisingly, was a sign of things to come for the NHL’s top two regular-season scorers.
Less than three minutes later, at the 9:10 mark, Draisaitl scored his second of the series, with McDavid grabbing his secondary assist. Draisaitl and McDavid then notched their third point in setting up Zack Kassian’s second-period goal.
Their night, however, turned pungently sour in the third. In particularly uncharacteristic fashion, McDavid failed to clear the zone, which led directly to Josh Morrissey’s equalizer.
When Draisaitl and McDavid erupt for six combined points, you expect the Oilers to win. The fact they didn’t should gravely concern an Oilers team on the brink of an unexpectedly swift elimination. McDavid and Draisaitl were visibly bemused and frustrated during their post-game press conference. You seldom see the prolific pair lost for words, a testament to how superbly the Jets have taken to the gargantuan task at hand.
Game 3 Full of Threes
Game 3 was, fittingly, full of threes. Draisaitl and McDavid had three-point outings, while their team’s first two goals were scored in just under a three-minute span of the first period.
Special teams, after a pair of dormant outings, made a massive impact on Game 3 proceedings. Both teams had three power-play attempts and three goals were scored with the man advantage, two of which from the victorious Jets. Ehlers’ scored Winnipeg’s first power-play goal of the series and Mathieu Perreault followed that with a power-play marker in the third period, his goal spearheading the home team’s improbable comeback.
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Perreault’s goal was the first of three unanswered in a 3:03 span of the third that saw Edmonton’s three-goal lead evaporate.
Speaking of threes, the Jets soar into Game 4 with a commanding 3-0 series lead. With only four teams ever coming back from a three-game deficit, history suggests the Oilers are now condemned to a premature first-round exit. Teams leading a series 3-0 boast a staggering 192-4 record.
The Jets, though, will be focussed on putting the Oilers out of their misery in Game 4, swiftly and without remorse, knowing acutely what a momentum shift can do to the complexion of a playoff series.
A freelance sports writer and content strategist, Gary trains rigorously to avoid carpal tunnel, writing about hockey, footy and all things Jets and Tottenham. He’s freelanced for The Calgary Herald, FanSided, Sports Illustrated, The Canadian Press, among others.