The second game of a back-to-back is always the hardest. Throw in a trip to the United Center, and a date with the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and things start looking pretty bleak.
For a while, it was. But in the end, the Winnipeg Jets pulled through, on the shoulders of a standout goaltending performance, and a first line that found it’s scoring touch again.
The Blackhawks started the game like many expected them to, with a flurry of offense in the first 10 minutes. In fact, it was over 10 minutes into the game before Tobias Enstrom recorded Winnipeg’s first shot on goal. Nine minutes before that, however, Brandon Bollig scored the first goal of the game, putting the home team up 1-0.
It was a miracle that the Blackhawks did not add one, two, or five more goals before the first period was out. Shots at the end of 20 minutes were 18-2 Chicago. Some were more impressed with Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford‘s ability to stay awake, rather than Winnipeg’s Al Montoya keeping all of the shots out of the net.
The second period was substantially better to start, with the Jets attaining some rare offensive zone time. However, shots were still hard to come by, and the Blackhawks still controlled play, thanks to two consecutive Jets penalties to end the period. Winnipeg finished the period with four shots, and were only trailing by one goal entering the third.
Then the magic happened.
Winnipeg woke up, spending the majority of the first five minutes of the third in the Chicago zone. Dustin Byfuglien got re-acquainted with former teammate Patrick Sharp in the crease, and suddenly, the Jets were playing with fire. Blake Wheeler found the puck on his stick after a lucky bounce, and seconds later, it was in the back of the net, and the score was 1-1.
After the Jets continued to control the pace, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville took a timeout with 8 minutes remaining. On the ensuing faceoff, with his first line in the defensive zone, Marian Hossa coughed the puck up to another former ‘Hawk, Andrew Ladd, who gave the visitors the lead.
From there, it was only killing time. After hemming the ‘Hawks in their own zone for much of the dying minutes, Wheeler potted the empty-netter goal for a 3-1 lead. The Jets held on, and beat the champs in most surprising fashion.
Wheeler’s two goals puts him at 20 on the year, ranking 19th NHL-wide. USA Olympic teammate Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks did not record a point.
Al Montoya was an obvious first star, stopping 34 of 35, a .971% save percentage, including a magical glove save on Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews that will make highlight films everywhere. The Chicago native got his first start since January 5th, and earned every bit of his ninth win of the season.
Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice couldn’t put the fourth line on the ice in the key moments, but now has a 6-1 record behind the Winnipeg bench. Eric O’Dell, who only had 3:18 of TOI, still proved more effective than James Wright, in whom’s place he sat for the team’s past two games.
The Jets will try to carry the momentum from beating the NHL’s two top teams in the past four games into a four-point game on Tuesday, when they face the Central Division rival Nashville Predators. the ‘Hawks will be back on the ice on Tuesday, when they take on the Calgary Flames on the road.
Thanks for reading. For more Winnipeg Jets conversation and live game updates follow us on twitter @hkyattheforks.