Jets put in a true team effort with hard-fought victory over Lightning

Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 33 shots, and Morgan Barron's rebound goal in the second period stood to be the winner as the Winnipeg Jets escaped Tampa Bay Lightning's late rally with a 3-2 victory.

TAMPA BAY – Morgan Barron thought it could go either way, so he wasn’t about to venture a guess about whether or not he figured his goal would survive a video review before the final decision was made.

All the Winnipeg Jets forward knew is that it was about time he caught a break around the net, as he was virtually left with a yawning cage to fill after teammate Brenden Dillon had his initial shot stopped by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Barron didn’t miss, and after the play was under scrutiny from a variety of angles, it was ultimately determined that the rebound deposit would stand as a good goal. It stood up to be the game-winner as the Jets earned a 3-2 victory over the Lightning on Sunday night.

“I never know with the goalie interference stuff anymore,” said Barron. “Just watching it on TV, it seems like such a coin flip. I didn’t feel like (Dillon) went in there too hard, I guess, and I think that’s ultimately what swayed them toward the decision they made. You never know. It was good. An easy one for me, an empty net and I buried it.

“I’ve been waiting for that bounce for a little while. It was nice it came.”

Dillon tried to bury a cross-ice pass from Mason Appleton but was denied by Vasilevskiy.

While there was contact made by Dillon on the Lightning goalie, it was ultimately ruled to be incidental.

“I was pretty confident. I mean, I’m right in my office there in the crease, where I usually am,” joked Dillon. “I felt like I was almost frustrated with myself that I didn’t score right off the hop, so the fact that (Barron) was able to tap it in after… I saw some replays on the bench. Those ones are pretty tough to overturn and you sometimes just never know how it’s going to go but it turns out to be the game-winner and that’s awesome.

“I mean, I was just trying to get the puck on net. Going there, I know there was myself and the backchecker … and I tried to do everything I could. I think I ended up having my hand on the crossbar at the end of it. But yeah. I watched it three times on the bench just trying to catch my breath at the end of the shift. I was so excited for it so I’m happy we had that one go our way.”

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This was a milestone game for Dillon, who suited up in his 800th NHL tilt.

Not only did he chip in an assist on the game-winner, he logged 21:23 and helped chew up some of the ice time available with Josh Morrissey sidelined by a lower-body injury he sustained on Friday.

“That’s how I was hoping the game would go,” said Dillon, an undrafted free agent who was originally signed to an entry-level deal by the Dallas Stars. “Big win for us. Super proud and happy to get that (milestone). A young Brenden Dillon was just hoping for one of these and here we are, 800 later. Just super fortunate and happy to be here.”

The Jets are hopeful that Morrissey might be able to return for the finale of this three-game road trip on Tuesday.

Even if that’s not the case, Morrissey is not expected to miss considerable time and should be back by Thursday’s home game against the Boston Bruins.

In the meantime, Dylan Samberg slid back into the lineup and logged more than 17 minutes, playing primarily on a pairing with Dylan DeMelo.

“Yeah, it was by committee. We had to use everybody,” said Jets associate coach Scott Arniel. “With back-to-back games, where Josh can log some big minutes, everybody had to be a part of it. I’m real proud of the guys. They did a really good job of clearing the front of the net. I know there were a lot of crazy situations that were going on at times.

“I liked the way we moved the puck up. We were quick and we didn’t allow extended times in our end of the rink. We played fast and that helped a lot for us to get into Tampa’s end.”

The Jets also got goals from Nate Schmidt on a seeing-eye shot that came with the fourth line on the ice, and a power-play marker from Nino Niederreiter, who continues to shine after coming over in a deal a week before the NHL trade deadline.

Niederreiter is up to three goals and six points in seven games, and while he’s riding a six-game point streak, he also made an important contribution on the back check, preventing a clean look for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos after a nice saucer pass from Nick Paul.

The Jets also got a boost from Adam Lowry, who left Friday’s game with a lower-body injury but managed to suit up on the checking line with Barron and Appleton.

The trio was effective all night long, generating some quality scoring chances while shutting down the Lightning’s top offensive players.

Speaking of special teams, the Jets rebounded nicely after giving up three power-play goals to the Florida Panthers, going three-for-three while shorthanded and killing off a 62-second two-man disadvantage.

“That’s one of the toughest 5-on-3 units to face there,” said Barron. “The guys did a great job staying in shot lanes and just watching from the bench yelling because there’s always somebody that seems like they’re open but guys did such a great job of extending out, getting in the shooting lanes and then retreating back and going against the next guy.”

The Jets got another rock-solid performance from Connor Hellebuyck, who started on consecutive days and finished the weekend with 77 saves – including 33 on Sunday.

“He’s the best in the world for a reason,” said Barron. “He just sticks to his process and we have full faith in him. He made some huge saves for us down the stretch.”

Hellebuyck made his 51st start of the season and was adamant he was fresh enough to provide the type of goaltending required against a potent Lightning attack. He shut the door outside of an early goal from Alex Killorn and a shorthanded marker from Anthony Cirelli, who was knocked out of the game by a hit from Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who received a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.

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“When (Hellebuyck) comes to us and tells us he feels really good, I think you let him go,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said prior to the contest. “We need the win and we need to win games on the road. It’s certainly not a slight on David (Rittich) because he’s done a great job for us. But when your No. 1 guy comes to you and tells you he pretty much wants the ball, let’s give it to him.”

Going into this road trip, things seemed to be going sideways for the Jets as they had dropped seven of the previous eight games and managed just two wins in the previous 11 games.

But with the standings tightening up considerably, the Jets have responded by sweeping the Lightning and Florida Panthers to improve to 38-26-3 on the season.

Suddenly, they’re back in a better position to battle for one of the top three seeds in the Central Division rather than hanging on for dear life in the wild card.

Things can change quickly at this time of the year, but the Jets are encouraged by the steps they’ve taken to get things turned around.

“We had to keep things interesting,” said Dillon. “I think it’s a credit to our group. We’ve got a bunch of key guys out, back to back in a tough building with a hungry team there, and we were able to manage it. We showed a lot of character with that. We had guys blocking shots, our penalty kill came up huge, we just overall played a great road game. We really wanted to work on our road game, in general, coming into this trip, and to get a big back-to-back couple of wins in some tough buildings against some tough teams is just huge for our group.

“We wanted to come into this one hoping for six points so the fact that we’ve got the first four, we’re confident in our group. We know that we’ve gone through a tough spell here the last 10, 15 games, but we’re the ones who are going to have to get out of it. We’re going to have to find ways to win. We can’t use any excuses. Everybody stepped up. Our checkers checked, our offensive guys produced, and everyone just contributed whatever way they needed to do.”

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