The Winnipeg Jets were just OK for most of the first part of the season. Except for their games against the Blackhawks.Against the Blackhawks, they were perfect.Andrew Copp and Bryan Little scored in a 32-second span in the third period, and Winnipeg continued its dominance against the Hawks with a 5-3 victory on Thursday on the final night before the NHL All-Star break.
”For some reason, we elevate our game when we play this team and we always give our best,” Little said. ”The big thing for us is having that confidence and having that energy and just will to win against other teams. For some reason, we just have these guys’ numbers.”
Winnipeg (23-25-4) improved to 4-0 against the Blackhawks (30-16-5), outscoring the Blackhawks 13-4. It had dropped four in a row against the Hawks coming into the season.Little, Copp, rookie Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, helping the Jets to their third win in their last nine games.The Blackhawks had a 3-2 lead before Copp tipped Josh Morrissey‘s shot past Scott Darling with 4:03 left. Little then blasted a shot by Darling for his 13th of the season, silencing the crowd of 21,746.Scheifele added an empty-netter at 17:57 for his 22nd goal, moving the center into a tie with Laine for the team lead.
”I thought we had good control of the game,” Duncan Keith said. ”They were getting chances, but we were playing well. It was just two sets of two quick goals. It totally changed the game.”
Keith, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero scored for the Blackhawks, who allowed four goals in the third period of a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Darling finished with 28 stops.Winnipeg also scored two goals in a 42-second span in the first, continuing a disturbing trend for the Blackhawks, who allowed two in 46 seconds against Vancouver on Sunday, and then surrendered a pair of goals in 30 seconds against the Lightning.
”It’s hard to accept these two. Especially this one today,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. ”It’s going to kind of ruin the break a little bit. It’s going to take a little while to swallow the way we’ve lost this one.”
Winnipeg jumped in front in the first when Little made a great pass across the ice to Laine, who drove a one-timer by Darling for a power-play goal at 6:16. Laine returned Tuesday after missing eight games with a concussion.Jacob Trouba then had a big slap shot go off the right skate of Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell and past Darling, with Shawn Matthias getting his stick on the puck just before it crossed the line. It was Matthias’ seventh of the season.
”There were plays that could have been defended against for sure tonight,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ”We always talk about important shifts. That’s the first shift after a goal, a key shift in games.”
The Blackhawks, who controlled much of the early action, then got one back after Nic Petan was whistled for hooking at 13:02. Just 5 seconds into the ensuing power play, Keith drove a slap shot by Hellebuyck from the left point with Artem Anisimov providing a perfect screen in front.Schmaltz got the tying goal 4 minutes into the second. While Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart repeatedly checked Marcus Kruger in the back while the two were on the ice, Schmaltz picked up the loose puck, skated in and beat Hellebuyck on the short side for his third of the season.
NOTES—Kruger played in his first game since Dec. 30. He was activated from injured reserve on Tuesday after being sidelined by a hand injury. … Blackhawks C Dennis Rasmussen, who is battling an illness, skated Thursday morning, but was scratched. … Hjalmarsson played in his 600th NHL game. …The Hawks visit Winnipeg on Feb. 10.
The Blackhawks start a six-game road trip at San Jose on Tuesday night.