NEWARK, N.J. — Laurent Brossoit had never seen anything like it. Neither had Neal Pionk. It might have happened to Blake Wheeler once back in college, but that was many icings ago.
Perhaps Mathieu Perreault put it best: “Yup, just like we planned — exactly like we drew it up,” Perreault said with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Together, the Winnipeg Jets stuck to their game and the old coaching adage, “Don’t stop skating,” with four unanswered goals of their own, erasing a 4-0 deficit en route to a dramatic, 5-4, come-from-behind win over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark Friday night.
“We stayed with it and stayed together as a group, just kept fighting,” Wheeler, who netted the game-winner in the shootout, said. “Just a great job of the guys working hard and getting a reward. Pretty proud of that group for sure.”
”It was crazy, I can’t say I have experienced a game quite like that,” Brossoit, who stood tall with 35 saves, said. ”When you are down by that much you are just working on things and trying to stay focused and make sure it doesn’t turn into an absolute shitshow. I felt the energy from the boys. The energy was contagious. After the first one, then the second one quickly after we started to believe.”
In what was the Devils’ home opener of the season, Nikita Gusev’s first-career NHL goal lit the building on fire before two goals from Blake Coleman and another from Sami Vatanen sent the crowd into a frenzy with a 4-0 lead halfway through the second period.
Even when Dmitry Kulikov snuck one past Devils’ goalie Cory Schneider from the point with 11 seconds left in the second period to make it a 4-1 game, New Jersey still seemed comfortably in control. Nothing could dampen a new era of excitement until…
Just over two minutes into the third period, Schneider made a splendid kick-save on a shot from the Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers, but the rebound ricocheted out to Jack Roslovic who made no mistake burying it short-side to cut it to 4-2. In a lateral attempt to make the secondary save, Schneider hurt himself, was in obvious pain and immediately skated to the Devils’ bench and off the ice.
Fueled by the Roslovic marker and perhaps seeing blood in the water with a cold backup goalie in Mackenzie Blackwood coming in for Schneider, the Jets found their legs and started skating in the third.
Perreault made it a one-goal game with 12:43 remaining in regulation on a pinpoint, five-hole snapshot from the slot before Pionk’s rocket through a screen in front created by Mark Scheifele tied it up at 4-4 with 7:25 to go. Wheeler nearly sent Winnipeg out with a win in walk-off fashion in the waning moments of regulation but hit two posts in the final seconds as time expired. The two-time All-Star would get another chance, however.
“I just came off the bench, yelled for it and put it in. That’s what you want to do — you want to be a difference-maker,” Perreault said. “Down three goals after two periods, that first one gave us hope. We told ourselves, ‘There’s no quitting, That’s not our identity.’ Luckily we did it — it was awesome.”
The Jets fired six shots on Blackwood in the third period — scoring on two of them — to force overtime.
“In that situation of the game, the tides were turning — it was a bad spot for the goalie to come in to,” Wheeler said. “You put a goalie who is not warm into a situation where we’re coming back… it’s a tough spot.”
Overtime was a feast for the senses with both teams firing on all cylinders. Both New Jersey and Winnipeg had chances to end it in sudden-death with a number of high-quality scoring chances and end-to-end rushes, but the Devils and Jets were fit to be tied heading to a shootout.
There, Gusev bested Brossoit in the Devils’ first attempt, but it would be the last time New Jersey would solve the Vancouver Island native. Kyle Connor converted for Winnipeg before Wheeler, making up for his earlier gaff, buried it to cap off a dramatic comeback for the Jets.
“I just wanted the opportunity, man,” a relieved Wheeler said after netting the game-winner. “Just staying with it. I had it within myself. I don’t want to back away from that opportunity after missing a couple layups at the horn.”
“The first 40 minutes obviously didn’t go according to plan, but the turning point in the game was Kulikov who came up with a huge one there before the end of the period,” Wheeler said. “We came back into the room with a little momentum. We were still talking. We were still ready. We stayed with it and stayed together, just kept fighting… Pretty proud of that group for sure.”
It was the second time in back-to-back nights the Jets roared back with three goals in the third. Winnipeg improves to 7-0 in its last seven meetings with New Jersey, and 13-1-2 in its last 16 meetings.
”We don’t have any excuses in here,” five-time All-Star P.K. Subban, who was acquired by the Devils in June, said. ”We are going to learn from this as a group — and it’s not about pointing fingers — it wasn’t one specific guy.”
After a tough, 6-4, opening-night loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night, the Jets still had something left in the tank Friday in Jersey. Despite the subtractions of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien on defense this off-season, Winnipeg remains a high-caliber offensive machine capable of scoring in bunches from the likes of Wheeler, Scheifele, Ehlers and Patrik Laine.
“We felt like we deserved better last game,” Perreault said. “Today, we found a way to battle back and made up for it in the shootout to get the two points — it was huge.”
“The first period was like eating a sand sandwich on toast,” Jets’ coach Paul Maurice said. “But it got pretty darn exciting there at the end. We’ll keep that one. It was a great comeback there at the end.”
When asked if he had ever coached a team that overcame a four-goal deficit, Maurice said: ”Not four. I have had some three’s. I don’t remember a four. I am sure over the last 25 years it has happened. I just can’t remember.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 5, 2019
Despite just a handful of games into the 2019-20 season, the dramatic swing of momentum makes this sure to be a game that won’t easily be forgotten by either club.
“You bond instantly and share that memory together,” Pionk said. “To say you came back from four goals down is something we’ll share the rest of the year and gives us confidence as a group.”
“No matter what happens the rest of the year we’ve got this to fall back on,” Wheeler added. “You’re never out of a game. You just need to stay together, stay with it, keep pushing all game because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The Devils (0-1) won’t have time to wallow in defeat as the team hits the road for a Saturday night game in Buffalo against the Sabres. The Jets (1-1) will continue their East Coast trip with a game against the New York Islanders on Sunday.
Devils’ coach John Hynes said Schneider was currently in with the team’s training staff after the game. He declined to say whether the All-Star netminder would make the trip to Buffalo.
“Valuable lessons come out of it,” Hynes said. “If you narrow it down, we got the 4-0 lead but didn’t play smart enough when we had it. The first goal against with 15 seconds left in the period — a wall battle high in our zone — we don’t play hard enough to get it out of the zone then the puck winds up in the back of our net. If we get out of that period up 4-0, it doesn’t give them any legs. That’s a learning lesson right there. We had them on their heels.”
Written by John Christian Hageny
Special to HockeyClan
Photos by Mark Carosiello / @SnapthePicture6
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