Bowness’ line shuffling pays off in dire time as Jets rout Red Wings

Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor (81), Neal Pionk (4) and Brenden Dillon (5) celebrate Connor’s goal against the Detroit Red Wings during first period NHL action in Winnipeg, Friday, March 31, 2023. (John Woods/CP)

WINNIPEG — This was a decision seemingly borne out of the theory that desperate times call for desperate measures.

But on a night when the Winnipeg Jets absolutely had to snap out of a serious funk, the line combinations put together by Rick Bowness and his coaching staff ended up being a full stroke of brilliance.

By the time the final buzzer had sounded on Friday night, the Jets had basically completed the scoring bingo card: A pair of goals from the newly reconfigured top line, another from the second line, one from the third line and one from the back end.

Toss in 23 saves for Connor Hellebuyck in his 59th start of the season to complete the bingo as the Jets earned a 6-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, snapping a two-game skid with confidence-repairing authority.

“The puck had to go in for us. You need some breaks,” said Bowness, whose club improved to 42-31-3. “Look at (Mark Scheifele’s) goal, all of a sudden he’s coming around the net, he knocks it in. It’s there. We haven’t had those breaks in a long time.

“Even that first goal (from Kyle Connor), the tip. We haven’t had that luck around the net in a long time and it was good to see.”

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Now, it’s too early to tell if this will be a one-off or a jumping off point for a team that had been struggling mightily to light the lamp in recent weeks as their firm grasp on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference loosened considerably.

For the time being, the Jets will simply take the win for what it’s worth — a valuable two points in the piggy bank on a night where they got a number of contributions and had players step up big time. Especially when Norris Trophy candidate Josh Morrissey was unable to play due to an illness.

“That was a big hole back there. You notice how much you miss him when he’s not there,” said Bowness, noting that he expects Morrissey to return to the lineup on Sunday. “But give those guys credit. They all did their job and they all picked up (the slack).

“Last game, (Morrissey) played 27 minutes in San Jose. Those guys picked up the minutes and they all handled it really well.”

Much has been written about the need for the Jets to get more out of their big guns during the stretch run and those players took the challenge to heart.

Scheifele showed some accountability following Tuesday’s game in San Jose and he turned those words into action against the Red Wings, scoring a goal and setting up another.

Not only did Scheifele snap a nine-game drought, he delivered his team-leading 39th of the season to set a career high. He would have hit the 40-goal milestone were it not for a sound defensive play by Red Wings defenceman Moritz Seider.

Bowness moved Scheifele onto a line with Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois, loading up the top unit with a power hour approach that clicked immediately.

Along with Scheifele erasing his slump, Connor scored for just the second time in the past 15 games and was skating well throughout.

Dubois was also involved, driving the net, drawing a penalty and finishing with three shots on goal.

After morning skate, Bowness spoke about how the line might not be a long-term solution and that if Scheifele wasn’t comfortable, he would quickly move him back to the middle.

By the end of the night, the potential for the trio was on full display. This is something that might get some considerable run here as the Jets try to lock down a spot in the postseason.

“They’re both fantastic players and I really liked the look of it.” said Scheifele, who had two points in 18:45 of ice time. “It’s different, for sure. I’ve played centre my whole life. It’s definitely an adjustment. But when you play with two good players like Dubey and K.C., it makes it easy.”

Speaking of slumps, Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler defiantly put his 21-game drought in the rearview mirror when he drove to the far post and received an excellent pass from Nikolaj Ehlers — who added a goal of his own in the third period.

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Wheeler was either so fed up with the slump itself or sick of hearing about it that he didn’t even bother to celebrate after he found the back of the net for the first time since Feb. 14.

“Honestly, I had no idea. He told me on the bench. So, obviously, that’s huge for him,” said Ehlers. “We all know when you go through something like that, it’s not the most fun. But he still found ways to contribute. But obviously it’s great to have him back scoring.”

The Jets checking line benefitted from the addition of Nino Niederreiter — who scored his 23rd of the season — and was involved in a pair of goals, including a point shot from Dylan DeMelo.

One of the few things the Jets didn’t accomplish on Friday was to score a goal on the power play, though it was not for a lack of looks.

The Jets momentarily raised their lead in the chase for the final wild card berth in the Western Conference to four points over the Calgary Flames. But a 5-4 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks brought Calgary back to only two points away.

Given recent events, the Jets needed this offensive outburst to help settle things down.

“Obviously more of an example in how we want to play,” said Bowness. “We’ve also played some pretty good games where we’ve lost here at home. Tonight, we played really well and we scored some goals. That’s really the biggest difference, so yeah, that’s how we want to play.”

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