WINNIPEG — Come for the offensive outburst, stay for the friendly banter.
After one of the wildest games of the Winnipeg Jets‘ season – a topsy-turvy tilt that featured three four-goal swings and ended with an 8-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens – the sight of Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele sitting together at a podium and needling one another was an important moment.
Whether it was Dubois chiming in with an answer to Scheifele about recording his first Gordie Howe hat trick or Scheifele countering to a query to Dubois about what things he’s changed recently that led to this recent offensive outburst, the one thing you could not mistake was the high level of joy shown by two of the foundational pieces on this Jets roster.
“First and last,” Dubois cracked before Scheifele chuckled and agreed, using the same words in two separate answers after the Jets improved to 24-21-9 on the season and kept pace, remaining six points behind the Edmonton Oilers in the chase for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
When Dubois made it abundantly clear he wasn’t going to dive into the details of the tweaks he’s made, Scheifele couldn’t help mentioning “he’s using Head & Shoulders” as if he was trying to land an endorsement deal for his teammate.
No, there are no points handed out in that category here in this battle to stay in the playoff race in the Western Conference, but the video evidence was clear as day.
Not lost in the humour displayed were the performances delivered by the Jets’ top two centres as they handed the Canadiens their first loss in six games since Marty St. Louis took over as head coach.
In a season where Scheifele has endured tumultuous times and battled through some sluggish play, he’s found a way to get things turned around at a critical juncture.
By scoring twice on Tuesday night, Scheifele became the third member of the Jets to hit the 20-goal plateau (joining Dubois, who scored his 22 on a perfect feed from Scheifele, and team leader Kyle Connor, who is up to 32).
It’s the seventh time in Scheifele’s career that he’s hit the mark and he’s got 28 more games to chase a third 30-goal campaign.
At a time when Scheifele’s engagement level has come under scrutiny, he raised a few eyebrows after the morning skate when asked about being on the lookout for any potential retribution for his hit on Jake Evans late in Game 1 of the second-round Stanley Cup series last season against the Canadiens.
Scheifele went through the obligatory chatter about how it was a new season and that it was just another game, that there was much more at stake and that both teams had more pressing issues to take care of.
But whether he was tired of answering questions about the topic or simply figured he would provide a sound bite so he could turn the page on the subject, Scheifele did drop this little nugget before carrying on with his day.
“If Jake Evans wants to fight me, I’ll answer the bell for sure,” Scheifele told reporters.
This wasn’t Scheifele trying to bring attention to the matter or providing an unintended piece of bulletin-board material.
After receiving a four-game suspension that spilled into the season opener, Scheifele was merely acknowledging that he needed to be ready, just in case.
Evans wasn’t out there seeking retribution, though Scheifele did drop the gloves in the third period with Canadiens defenceman Chris Wideman.
Not a lot of punches were either thrown or landed, but Scheifele did his best to try to get the crowd going on his way off the ice.
He was not trying to taunt his opponent, nor was he trying to let the situation fester.
Scheifele was simply trying to enjoy the moment of a victory and a rare fight – as it was just his second scrap in 623 NHL games.
“That might be the only time I would ever be able to try and pump up the crowd after a fight,” said Scheifele, whose other fight came against Brett Pesce of the Carolina Hurricanes, on Jan. 21, 2020.
Had he been looking over his shoulder or had his head on a swivel throughout the game in case someone came to settle the score?
“I talked about it this morning. You never know what’s going to happen,” said Scheifele. “I said if the opportunity presented (itself) and if someone rung the doorbell, I would do it. I wasn’t really expecting it to happen, but you always have to think that there’s going to be something that could happen. It’s a physical game and there’s a chance that that happens, especially (with) the magnitude of what happened last year (with Jake Evans). But it’s all over now.”
Or is it?
Canadiens right winger Josh Anderson made it clear during the post-game availability that he and his teammates didn’t appreciate Scheifele’s antics – even if they were not intended to be inflammatory.
“It’s a good thing we play them one more time this year,” Anderson, who notched his first career hat trick to help the Canadiens tie the game after falling behind the Jets 4-0 during the first period, told reporters.
That second and final meeting between the Jets and Canadiens is scheduled for April 11 at the Bell Centre.
What Scheifele was able to accomplish with his gloves on – and in concert with Dubois – was the far more important accomplishment on this night.
That the two players set up one another for highlight reel goals and finished with three points each (which included Dubois feeding Scheifele for a one-timer in the slot and Scheifele finding Dubois on the rush) was part of what Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff envisioned when he made the trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
When Scheifele and Dubois are both playing at an optimal level, it creates some significant matchup challenges for opposing coaches, not to mention those players tasked with trying to limit their offensive production.
Dubois was a powerful force throughout the game, even after the Jets watched the four-goal cushion vanish.
He finished with six shots on goal and eight shot attempts. He also won a puck battle that led to Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry committing an infraction for high-sticking when he caught Dubois in the visor.
Speaking of the Jets men in the middle, Adam Lowry continued his offensive resurgence, scoring in a third consecutive game and adding an assist to give him four goals and five points over his past six games.
Lowry has provided plenty of value on the defensive side of the game and the penalty kill, but this hot stretch has him up to seven goals on the season and pushing for double digits.
The importance of that development is not lost on Lowry, who clearly recognizes the value of chipping in to the secondary scoring that has often been lacking for the Jets this season.
The Jets welcomed back Andrew Copp after he missed six games with a concussion and he had an immediate impact, delivering the game-winning goal and adding an assist while logging nearly 18 minutes of ice time.
Special teams played a massive role in the game as the Jets struck four times in six opportunities with the man-advantage, while allowing the Canadiens to go one-for-six on the power play.
Those final four goals of the game were scored on the Jets power play and although Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck allowed a couple of softies and surrendered four goals overall, his save on Rem Pitlick on a penalty shot kept the game tied 4-4 and Copp’s marker came just 18 seconds later.
“That was a crazy game, a lot of back and forth. Mistakes, penalties,” said Dubois, whose club hosts the Dallas Stars on Friday as this four-game homestand continues. “Our job is to be the best we can and stay (consistent) the whole time. But when momentum swings like that and penalties and 4-on-4s, it can get a bit more complicated. We were on the wrong side of a comeback in Colorado.
“To keep going and not panic too much feels really good. At this point of the year, we’ll take the two points and be happy with it. We did a lot of good things. I think it’s a game we can use to build off.”