WINNIPEG — Patrik Laine had the puck on his blade, cruising down the left edge of the slot like a Jag in the passing lane. Bruins goalie and fellow Finn, Tuukka Rask, shifted over towards the former 44-goal man, stuck at 29 snipes this season and hungry for more.
“All the options are right there, obviously, but when it’s one of the best shooters in the league you don’t want to cheat,” said Rask.
Everyone inside Bell MTS Place was thinking shoot.
“I thought I was going to shoot, too,” chuckled Laine. “Yeah, if I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t think the goalie’s going to know what I’m doing.”
Laine would hit for the goalpost cycle Thursday — right post, crossbar and left post — but on the play in question he deftly slipped a pass over to a charging Mark Scheifele, who quietly tapped the biscuit behind Rask for the 2-0 goal midway through the first period.
“I thought first I was going to shoot it. I was pretty close,” Laine said. “But then I saw Scheif backdoor. So, might as well pass it, sometimes.”
Might as well pass it, sometimes. Lord help NHL goalies if that becomes a thing for Laine.
This was big boy’s hockey, Thursday night in the slow thaw that is Winnipeg, Manitoba. A Bruins team that was damned if they were going to lose a third straight game after their 15-0-4 run, posted up against a sour Jets club that had coughed up the losing goal at the 19:55 mark of the third period Tuesday against San Jose.
Two teams destined for the playoffs, both with warts in their game that needed removing. The third period opened at 2-2, two heavy, playoff-worthy clubs playing such tight hockey that they combined for just three shots on goal in the opening 10:00 of the period.
“What we’ve wanted to do now is get into that playoff mentality, get ready for the playoffs. Put together a full 60 like we did today,” said Nikolaj Ehlers, the speedy Jets winger who sniped the winner in a 4-3 Jets victory. “They’re a good team, a playoff team with a lot of skill. We played the game we needed to play.
“You know you’re not going to dominate for the full 60 minutes, but you can work hard for the full 60 minutes. We did that tonight.”
One night after Nashville lost to woebegone Anaheim, the Jets knocked off an Eastern power in the Bruins. With a dozen games left in their season, their potential first round foe a moving target between Dallas and flagging St. Louis, the Jets are simply trying to piece their own game together.
On Thursday, that started with the first line of Scheifele between Laine and big Blake Wheeler, a unit that stuffed a seven-point night down the throats of the Bruins. Scheifele was driving the net as we would expect him to, while Wheeler had his possession game back, doling out passes like a Vegas dealer.
It was Laine, however, whose well-rounded game may come as a surprise. He has 29 goals this season, which is a dip for him. But the young Finn’s overall game is improving.
He’s not just standing on the perimeter firing off one-timers, as we’ve seen in the past. Laine was strong all over the ice, a quality that could make this line a true powerhouse, if each player brings a complete game to the rink come playoff time.
“Playing on that line, against the other team’s best every night, you need to be more than just a shooter,” said Laine, who is still just 20 years old, and has 109 NHL goals on his resume. “I know that I can pass as well. It’s not new to me — I guess it’s new to everyone else. There are a lot of ways you can help the team win. Tonight is a passing night.”
Imagine if Laine were to round out his game, adding a passing element the way, say, a Leon Draisaitl has complimented his passing skills with a 40-plus goal season? Now, imagine that player on the left side of Scheifele and Wheeler.
Because to play on that line, you can’t be simply a one-trick pony. You’ve got to do it all, because if you don’t, head coach Paul Maurice will replace you with someone who will.
“I think what guys realize about me and Wheels is it’s never one guy’s the passer, one guy’s the shooter,” Scheifele said. “We all do the work, we all do what needs to be done. When you’re the guy to score, you’re the guy to score. When you’re the guy to pass, you’re the guy to pass. That’s the way we’ve always worked.”
Laine is finishing his Entry Level Contract this season.
God help the Jets’ salary cap if he ever learns to pass it as lethally as he shoots it.