Never give up, never surrender.
The Winnipeg Jets fell behind the Los Angeles Kings, 3-0 on Saturday night. After a disappointing season, a season in which the Jets failed to earn an invitation to the Stanley Cup dance, they might have been forgiven if they’d just folded their tent.
But there was no quit in them.
Blake Wheeler scored the tying goal and Mark Scheifele notched the winner in the shootout as the Jets came from three down to beat the Kings 4-3.
With the win, the Jets finished the 2015-16 season with four straight victories. It was the first time in the history of the franchise – whether the franchise was in Atlanta or Winnipeg – that the Jets had won in L.A. The Jets completed the season with a record of 35-39-8, 11th in the West, ahead of Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton.
For the Jets, it was a heck of a way to finish a bad year. After being outshot 13-7 in the first period, the Jets outshot the Kings 31-29 overall (24-16 in the final 40 minutes and overtime). Playing without six regular veterans — again — the Jets not only hung in there, they outplayed a team that could have wrapped up the Pacific Division at home with a win. As it is, Anaheim can now overtake L.A. with a victory in Washington on Sunday.
The Kings jumped on the Jets early, outshot Winnipeg 8-1 through the first 10 minutes of the game and built a 3-0 lead before the 10-minute mark of the second period.
Tyker Toffoli scored his 31st of the season at 9:18 of the first period and then Tanner Pearson scored his 15th to make it 2-0 at 13:29.
Andy Andreoff beat Ondrej Pavelec for his eighth of the season at 6:05 of the second period and the Kings looked as if they were about to make it a rout.
But the Jets woke up. They got a goal from Andrew Copp, his sixth of the year, at 17:06 of the second period and then, just a little more than two minutes later, got another, as Nikolaj Ehlers took a brilliant pass from Blake Wheeler and ripped it past Jonathan Quick to make it 3-2 after 40 minutes. With the assist, Wheeler extended his point-scoring streak to 11 games.
In the third period, Wheeler scored his 26th of the year at 3:21 and the Jets had come all the way back to tie the game. Mark Scheifele picked up an assist and kept his scoring streak alive at 10 games.
Wheeler finished the season as the Jets leading scorer with 26 goals and 78 points. Scheifele, who is just 23, was second with 29 goals and 61 points. Pavelec, who wasn’t originally scheduled to start on Saturday night, finished the season with a record of 13-13-4 with one shutout, a goals against average of 2.78 (41st in the NHL) and a save percentage of just .904 (44th in the NHL). One can’t help but think that the 28-year-old veteran is going to take a back seat to 22-year-old Connor Hellebuyck next season. Fact is, as outstanding as he was on Saturday, it might be time for a bigger change than that.
In overtime on Saturday, the Jets had a power play and managed only two shots at Quick while Pavelec had to make two tremendous saves. Meanwhile, at the very end of the OT, Quick stoned Ben Chiarot with what appeared to be the winner at the buzzer. It might have been the save of the year.
It was an exceptional hockey game, especially when one considers that the Jets had nothing to play for. They’ve been out of the playoffs for months and have played for weeks with injuries to what most observers thought were key players. However, youngsters like Scheifele, Ehlers, Petan, Copp, Adam Lowry, Alexander Burmistrov, Marko Dano, Julian Melchiori and Brendan Tanev stepped in and stepped up.
At some point, the Jets have to move out that old Atlanta core and in the final four games of the season they demonstrated that now (OK, at the draft) might be a good time to make some moves. Since the team arrived in Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011, it has made the playoffs once and never won a game. The five-year plan is a dumpster fire, but that doesn’t mean that the players GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff have drafted can’t have an impact next year. After all, they finished the season with four straight wins and three straight road wins – against three good teams in California. That ain’t bad.
The Jets flew home right after the game on Saturday and will start clearing out their lockers on Sunday.
For some, it might be the last time they clean out a locker at MTS Centre. That might be a good thing.