Happy Return: Back from injury, Dubois leads Jets to huge OT win over Predators

Josh Morrissey dished two assists and Neal Pionk had the game-winner as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Nashville Predators 3-2 in overtime to claim a crucial win in the wild card race.

Looking for examples of how much the Winnipeg Jets had been missing Pierre-Luc Dubois of late?

Look no further than the overtime session of Saturday’s much-needed 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

After missing five consecutive games with an upper-body injury and sitting out eight of the previous nine overall when he dealt with a lower-body issue, there was Dubois winning a defensive-zone draw that allowed the Jets to gain possession.

Dubois then picked up the puck through the neutral zone and drove the net before finding Neal Pionk on the doorstep for the winner 55 seconds into the three-on-three session.

“He’s a big strong man. He had that breakaway near the end of regulation, we were hoping that one went in,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness told reporters in Nashville. “When he’s skating like that, he’s a powerful guy and he’s tough to knock off the puck. He made a great play there at the end.”

Dubois finished the game with two shots on goal in just under 18 minutes of ice time, skating primarily on a line with Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler.

After picking up just two wins in the previous six games, this was a critical outcome for the Jets.

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“Yeah. Pressure’s all a matter of perspective,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey, who chipped in two assists, told reporters. “Regardless of the outcome of this game, there’s still quite a bit of hockey left to play. Obviously, you’d love to come in and get two points and give them none. That’s the reality at this time of year but I’d rather play in games that mean something. If you’re playing in games that don’t mean something at this time of year, likely you’re out of it unless you’re one of the few teams that are so far ahead, like Boston.

“So playing meaningful games that have more on the line is why you work hard for as long as we do in the off-season and, in the season, go through the grind to be in big moments.”

That the game went to overtime was not an optimal circumstance for the Jets, given the Predators were only four points back with three games in hand going into the contest.

By securing the extra point in overtime, gained ground on the hard-working Predators, who continue to battle despite the trades made that left them as a clear seller at the NHL trade deadline.

The Calgary Flames are now four points behind the Jets (same amount of games played) for the final wild-card spot after an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

For all of the talk about the need for secondary scoring, there was Adam Lowry supplying the game-tying goal with 9:45 to go in regulation time.

For Lowry, it was just the second goal in 42 games. It was the result of him winning the draw back to the point and then getting to the hard area in front of the net to deposit a rebound after a shot from Morrissey.

Lowry had been upset with how things have been going in the faceoff circle of late, so he made an important phone call this week to former Jets assistant coach Todd Woodcroft, who is now the bench boss for the University of Vermont.

“It certainly is important. I had a tough night in the circle against Boston, so I actually had a conversation with Todd Woodcroft and got back to some of the basics and some of the stuff he had taught me over the years,” Lowry told reporters. “I think it helped, it was just a couple minor adjustments that allowed me to kind of come through the dot a little better. I think that showed for the most part. To be rewarded after making those changes, that was huge.

“Our line gives up that kind of deflating goal after we tie it up and in these tight games you don’t want to be the reason you lose, right, so it was huge for us to get one back.”

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Predators goalie Juuse Saros made life miserable for the Jets for much of the contest, finishing with 31 saves while Connor Hellebuyck made his 53rd start of the campaign and turned aside 18 of 20 shots he faced.

“We played well enough to win that in regulation but give their goaltender credit — another goalie we made look pretty good. He was outstanding, but we were pretty happy with our overall game, team-game for 60 minutes,” said Bowness. “We were very confident that (if) we keep doing what we’re doing, the forecheck was working, we had some good looks off the rush.

“We’re spending a lot of time in their zone and the shots weren’t getting through. I think they had eight shot blocks in the first period. In the second period, you hit those 2-on-1s and 3-on-1s and you don’t get a shot on net, like that was a little frustrating but we spent more time in their zone that we didn’t generate much from. But the guys just stayed with it, and we kept saying to just keep putting pucks on the net and see what happens. Give the guys credit because they found a way to win.” 

The Jets gave up the opening goal to Winnipegger Cody Glass just 5:26 into the contest, but the bulk of the play was spent in the Predators zone.

However, the Jets weren’t rewarded until Nikolaj Ehlers blasted home a perfect slapper at 6:17 of the third period.

But the Predators responded just 34 seconds later when Luke Evangelista found himself alone in front.

The Jets improved to 39-28-3 and get some temporary relief with the overtime victory. They will face the St. Louis Blues in Missouri on Sunday night before heading home to face the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.

Don’t be surprised to see the Jets go back with Hellebuyck in goal, as he’s 3-0 when starting games on consecutive days this season and he didn’t have an overly taxing afternoon of work on Saturday.

This was an important start to the weekend, but the Jets have the opportunity to head home with a bit more of a cushion if they can take care of business against a Blues team that was also a seller at the NHL trade deadline and will also be without starting goalie Jordan Binnington, who is serving a suspension.

Despite dropping consecutive games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins, the Jets had been mostly happy with how they’d been playing structurally.

Sticking to that process and being rewarded against the Predators should be something the Jets will be able to build on as they head into the final 12 games of the regular season.

“I think that’s the trust in your teammates that we talk about. You don’t have to necessarily do something uncharacteristic. You just have to keep doing your job and try to excel at it,” said Lowry. “Maybe get out of your comfort zone and make some plays. You don’t have to go one-on-five. Use your teammates, believe that they’re there to make the right play. You don’t have to extend your shifts. Know that the line coming out after you is going to pick up where you left off.

“(Saturday is) a perfect example of that. We were able to roll the lines, get contributions up and down the lineup. Again, (Hellebuyck) was strong and our back end played great and our forwards, for the most part, I thought we had a really good game.”

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