The Winnipeg Jets certainly faced a lot of adversity in the 2019-20 NHL season, and when they overcame that adversity, it was often quite exciting.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to rob us of the Jets’ last 11 contests, which were bound to be electric as the team was in the thick of the Western Conference wild card fight and playing some of their best hockey of the season.
Even though the likelihood of the season resuming is low given the global health crisis that’s brought professional sports and life as we know it to a halt, the Jets played plenty of exciting games in 2020 prior to last month’s shutdown we can look back on.
5: Jets Conquer Capitals in Workmanlike Win — Feb. 27
This contest, the second of a back-to-back against Alexander Ovechkin and the high-octane Washington Capitals, was a return to the hard-working, stay-in-the fight identity the Jets cultivated early on in the season out of necessity.
After a couple of games that could be described as lethargic and lackadaisical, the Jets were looking to build on the bit of momentum they’d built by coming back from a 3-0 deficit and forcing a shootout against the D.C. team two nights earlier.
They did that, getting an early goal from an unlikely candidate in Dmitry Kulikov, who found the twine for the first time since early October. It was the first time they’d fired the opening salvo in 10 games.
The second period was scoreless as the Jets killed off back-to-back penalties late in the frame — helped out by some huge saves by Connor Hellebuyck, who deserves serious consideration for both the Vezina and Hart Trophies as the main reason the Jets were in a playoff spot prior to the pause.
Kyle Connor scored early in the third to double the lead and Mark Scheifele popped in an empty-netter for good measure to make the final 3-0.
4: Jets Outlast Leafs in Shootout, Wheeler Cellies Right — Jan. 8
Less than a week an embarrassing 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a wide-open, pond-hockey-style contest at Bell MTS Place, the Jets had a chance to tangle with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and company at Scotiabank Arena.
The game was far from textbook as the Jets relinquished 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads, including allowing the tying marker to Mathews with just 14 seconds left on the clock.
After a frenetic and fast-paced overtime — in which Frederick Andersen robbed Jack Roslovic on a two-on-zero — the game went to a shootout.
In the fourth round, with a chance to win, Blake Wheeler made no mistake, stopping up and depositing the puck through the Dane’s five-hole.
While the goal wasn’t anything particularly special, the captain’s ensuing celebration was one for the ages.
While the game was heart-pounding, head coach Paul Maurice wasn’t too enthused after the game, describing the three-on-three as “a free-for-all of fecal matter” and a “s–t show.”
3: Jets Vex Vegas — March 6
Jets/Golden Knights games have come with a certain hype around them ever since the teams duked it out in the Western Conference Final back in 2018. This one, a rare Friday-night tilt at Bell MTS Place, was no exception.
The Jets got off to a flying start, with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine both scoring before the game was five minutes old. A late-first period tally from Kyle Connor, who converted on a two-on-one rush with Jack Roslovic, pushed the lead to 3-0. The goal extended Connor’s point streak to five games.
In the second, Mathieu Perreault, who returned after missing more than a month after taking a hellacious hit in mid-January, made his presence felt with a power play marker.
The Jets much-maligned defence — suddenly respectable after the Dylan DeMelo deal and the return of some injured players, held things down the rest of the way, looking poised and prepared.
As did Hellebuyck, who made 29 saves for his sixth shutout of the season. Overall, it was a near-perfect game in front of some extremely engaged fans that moved the Jets into the first wild card spot.
2: “Class of 2015” Line Shines Versus Kings — Feb. 18
The inexperienced but heady line of Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, and Jack Roslovic — all chosen in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft that has paid off huge — woke the team up from their second-period slumber against the lowly Los Angeles Kings.
The trio used their speed, strong cycle, and direct-to-the-net game to score back-to-back goals and erase a 1-0 deficit. First, it was Harkins one-timing a Laine pass home for his second-career NHL goal; then, it was Appleton scoring scored his fifth of the season on a rush with Roslovic.
From there, the big guns followed the youngsters’ example; Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Patrik Laine all scored before Wheeler notched another to make the final 6-3.
The line, which had combined for two goals and four points in a 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks two nights prior, gained praise from Paul Maurice.
“Their whole game is really good. Yeah, they’re scoring goals, so we’re certainly excited about it. But they’re playing at a different level,” the bench boss said post game. “Three guys, they’re not deferring to each other, they’re not playing with a veteran guy where they feel they gotta get him the puck. They’re just playing the game of hockey as fast as they can and lots of good things are coming from it.”From “Class of 2015 line leading the way,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 02/18/2020.
1: Laine Leads Jets Over Senators With Power Play Hat Trick — Feb. 8
Laine certainly came to play on hockey day.
The scintillating sniper, who has evolved by leaps and bounds in the first season of the two-year “prove yourself” bridge deal he signed just before the regular season began, notched a trio of well-deserved man-advantage markers as the Jets rolled to a 5-2 win.
All the goals came from different spots, a testament to his shedding of his former “one-trick-pony” ways. The first came from the side of the net after a Neal Pionk point shot generated a rebound and gave the Jets a 2-1 lead. The second came on a deft deflection after the Senators had tied things at 2.
The third was a gimme that came on a four-on-one — Blake Wheeler put it on a tee for Laine — but also a testament to how far the Finn’s game has come. Laine actually created the odd-man rush, as he busted his butt to back check and break up a potential shorthanded chance that came after he turned it over in the o-zone moments before.
Hockey Will Eventually Return; Until Then, Stay Safe
While it’s looking like the NHL season will not resume as epidemiologists posit that many months of social distancing will be necessary to slow COVID-19’s destructive spread, take solace in the fact regular life and hockey will eventually return.
In the meantime, the author wishes you health, safety, and sanity, and hopes reliving these games took your mind off the state of the world for a few minutes. Also, if you want to look back on exciting games from the first half of the season, check out THW’s piece the Jets’ top five games prior to the Christmas break.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.