WINNIPEG — This is the Winnipeg Jets' calling card.
To put it in the simplest terms possible, it’s how they roll.
Go ahead and call it the art of the rebound.
There’s a maturity within this group, a genuine belief they are never out of the game no matter what the scoreboard displays and a willingness to do whatever it takes to minimize the valleys during this gruelling and compressed 56-game season.
Sure, the Jets missed an opportunity to tie a season-high with four consecutive victories Saturday night, but they weren’t about to allow the Calgary Flames to beat them in consecutive games.
There was too much at stake and the Jets had a reputation to uphold.
They’ve only lost consecutive games in regulation once this season and had no interest in seeing that number double.
By the time the final buzzer sounded Monday night, the Jets had earned a decisive 5-1 win over the Flames in what was a downright dominant performance from the newly constructed line of Mark Scheifele (two goals, one assist) between Nikolaj Ehlers (three assists) and Kyle Connor (two assists).
“It was a bounce-back game for everyone. It was a bounce-back game for the team. That’s what we do,” said Ehlers, who is up to 36 points in 36 games this season.
“That’s kind of our playoff mentality, to bounce back after a loss, we’ve been able to do that really well this season. You don’t want to lose games, but being able to go out and play the way we played tonight after a loss shows how special this group is.”
The Jets wrapped up a season-high, seven-game road trip with a record of 4-3 as they improved to 22-11-2 and leapfrogged the Edmonton Oilers into second place in the North Division, just one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs.
What does it mean when a group has that reservoir of resilience built up when the intensity begins to ramp up and the stretch run is just around the corner?
“It’s an important strength to build over time, that you can suffer a tough one and come back,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “I’ll go back to what I’ve alluded to earlier, they have a really strong understanding of the game. In Game 2 of this three-game series, the pressure had shifted to Calgary. They came hard, we handled it right, and then just some bad breaks around our net. They didn’t leave the game feeling the other team is better than we are, or we failed in the game. There are some adjustments we need to make, but we’re right there.
“I think that’s been pretty consistent with all our games...There is an intelligence and a maturity for that to take place. They rebound well. They’re rested, as much as you can be in what we’re going through. They’re rested and they’re smart.”
This sets up what figures to be another showdown series with the Maple Leafs that goes Wednesday and Friday in Winnipeg.
Sensing his group needed a bit of a spark at the end of a long trip, Maurice made a swap of his centreman, flip-flopping Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois, who slid between captain Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny.
Ehlers was right in the middle of the action, delivering what was a virtuoso performance.
The most impressive of the numerous highlight-reel moves was an incredible entry with speed that included Ehlers faking a drop pass, but instead passing the puck to himself and going skate to stick before taking the Flames defenceman wide and then finding Scheifele alone in the slot for a one-timer.
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This was sheer brilliance from a player that continues to turn heads this season.
“I don’t think I’ve done that ever before, to be honest,” said Ehlers, asked to describe the play. “I just thought I could separate myself a little bit from that defenceman, (Scheifele) would have just been standing still with the puck, and it worked. After that, I tried to use my speed to go around him and (Scheifele) was in a great position to get a pass.”
Scheifele has been chipping in points all season long, but the goal well had been running a little dry with only two markers in his previous 16 games.
But with the sixth two-goal game of his career, Scheifele is suddenly up to 15 on the season — just one behind Ehlers and two behind Connor for the team lead.
Scheifele, who is fifth in NHL scoring with 43 points, is the kind of player that can go on impressive hot streaks and he figures to have some additional bounce in his step as he gets set to go head to head with Auston Matthews and John Tavares later this week.
The Jets also got an important goal from the fourth line and it was not without controversy as it went off the skate of Nate Thompson, whose left leg was fully outstretched before the puck made contact with the extended skate blade.
Were the Jets confident the goal was going to count when it went to video review?
“You know what, you never really know,” said Ehlers. “I’m not sure what exactly the rules are. I didn’t think there was a kicking motion. He can’t get his stick on the ice so he tries to get his stick on that puck and he did that perfectly. To be honest, I had no idea what was going to happen because I don’t exactly know the rules about skate goals. All I know is that, to me, it was not a kicking motion.”
By the time Andrew Copp and Dubois rounded out the scoring, it meant each of the Jets' four lines had a part of the offensive output — even if former's goal came on a blended shift.
“We have a lot of guys that have been around a long time and played a lot of playoff hockey and know what it takes, so I think that's a big part,” Jets forward Trevor Lewis said recently. “The leadership group here is good and gets the message across when it needs to be said.
“We've got four pretty good lines and, like I said before, everyone knows their role and no one's complaining about whether they should be up and down the lineup or whatever it is. It's a great group up front, for sure, we've got four good lines that can play against anyone so it's a good combo there.”
The other development for the Jets is that goalie Connor Hellebuyck has found his happy zone.
Although he wasn’t giving up many, if any, soft goals, a recent stretch saw the reigning Vezina Trophy winner give up three or more markers in eight consecutive starts.
Since that time, he’s given up only four goals over the past four games and posted his first shutout of the campaign.
Somewhat quietly, Hellebuyck has raised his save percentage to .918 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.57 as he’s recorded more saves than any other goalie in the NHL.
An early power-play goal was all the Flames could manage on Monday night.
“It doesn’t really affect me a whole lot. I’m trying to pitch a perfect game no matter what. If one beats me, it doesn’t change my game plan,” said Hellebuyck. “I want to show that I’m a rock back there and anytime that I get beat, I’m going to force them to make the perfect shot or at least try to and I’m going to show my team that I’m not fazed.”
The Jets haven’t run four lines very much during Maurice's tenure as head coach, but given the nature of the schedule, it’s been a critical element to surviving this stretch that featured 12 of the past 14 games on the road.
With one game remaining in a month that included 17 games in 30 days, the Jets have done more than just survive.
They remain right in the thick of things in the battle for top spot. With 20 games left in the regular season (including 12 on home ice), the Jets' fate remains in their hands.
They’ve clearly established a template of how they need to play and they’ve displayed an impressive level of consistency.
“There’s a lot of things that we’ve improved on in our game over that span and I think sometimes getting on the road can be a good thing in the NHL. You try to play a simplified game, a greasy road game, so to speak,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey. “We’ve made a lot of strides in the course of those games. We’re definitely happy with the improvement and how we’ve been able to handle the tough schedule.”
There was a scary moment for Flames defenceman Chris Tanev early in the first period.
Tanev was off-balance as he went back to retrieve a puck and was drilled into the end boards by Dubois.
It was a clean hit with an unfortunate result, as Tanev’s right shoulder and head went into the end boards.
But after heading down the tunnel for further evaluation, Tanev returned to the ice late in the first period and finished the game.
Given how big an impact Tanev is having during his first season with the Flames, this was an important development for a team that doesn’t have a wide margin for error during the stretch run.
The Jets are now 5-2-1 in the season series with the Flames, who are going to need to go on an incredible heater to get themselves back in this race for fourth place with the Montreal Canadiens.