Byfuglien’s Slash Saves the Day for Winnipeg

Carter BrooksSports

WINNIPEG, MB – Never before has the fanbase of the Winnipeg Jets ever been so ecstatic about a vicious Dustin Byfuglien two-hander with a minute left to play. Relax Winnipeg, catch your breath. The two-game home losing streak is over, thanks to a 4-3 overtime victory over the visiting Metropolitan Division leaders.

On Tuesday night, the Jets welcomed Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to Bell MTS Place. For the greater part of the game it appeared as though the visitors would be hopping on their chartered flight to Minnesota with both points.

Byfuglien’s Slash Saves the Day for Winnipeg

It was a game of massive momentum swings, as it took Winnipeg quite some time to wake up in the early going. The crowd in downtown Winnipeg erupted on the game’s opening goal, as Mark Scheifele jammed in his first marker since returning from a 16-game injury absence.

Winnipeg then fell asleep for the majority of the game before waking back up with just under half a period to play. Bryan Little rejuvenated Bell MTS Place with his 12th goal of the season, before Scheifele scored his second of the night, and second game-tying-goal with his goalie pulled for the extra attacker on the season, with 14.4 seconds to go.

Although struggling through most of the second and third periods, the Jets – fueled by a playoff-like atmosphere – gave local fans much more to look forward to for the remaining three games of the franchise-record 10-game homestand.

Byfuglien’s Slash Saves the Day for Winnipeg

A rather tentative first period saw Winnipeg come out of the gate in a sluggish manner. After a handful of run-around shifts, the hometown Jets finally brushed off the cobwebs and put some shots on 2016 Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby, before ultimately finding the twine midway through the frame.

Following an exceptional Dustin Byfuglien spin move on Caps’ forward Andre Burakovsky, the husky blueliner walked in towards Washington’s goal before attempting to slide the disc to teammate Mark Scheifele. The puck got hung up in a crowd of bodies before a lunging Scheifele jammed it into the goal.

It took until the Capitals’ 13th and final shot of the opening frame to tie the Jets on the scoreboard. On the heels of a sloppy defensive zone shift, Winnipeg left Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom all alone in front of Connor Hellebuyck. He collected a rebound and tucked the puck past the Jets’ suddenly not-so-hot netminder, tying the game with 22 seconds left in the period.

Byfuglien’s Slash Saves the Day for Winnipeg

The second period saw the visitors take the lead on an Andre Burakovsky rebound chance with 8:38 left to play in the frame. Following a soft Hellebuyck redirection on a Lars Eller shot from the slot, the young Austrian easily fired the rebound into the yawning cage, giving Washington their first lead of the evening.

The highlight of the second period was most definitely an interference penalty called on hometown Winnipegger Madison Bowey. After getting thrown onto his backside in front of the visitors’ bench, the 6-foot-2, 200 pound defenceman raced the length of the ice and engaged his attacker – Matt Hendricks – with a blatant shoulder to the face, knocking Hendricks straight back onto the ice, and out of the game.

Everyone, other than the 18 friends and family attending Tuesday’s game in support of the Charleswood native, expressed their displeasure with Dan O’Halloran’s decision to only assess a minor penalty on the play.

How’s that for a hometown reception, Madison?

The third period provided the most excitement that fans at Bell MTS Place may have seen all season. Starting the comeback was Bryan Little who found the back of the net on a beautiful give-and-go with rookie Jack Roslovic. Following about what seemed like an hour of offensive zone pressure, the Jets pulled Hellebuyck for the extra attacker.

Byfuglien’s Slash Saves the Day for Winnipeg

Washington’s Jay Beagle stole a loose puck and walked over the Jets’ blueline, only to be viciously hacked by a desperate Dustin Byfuglien. Beagle lost the puck and Big Buff received a two-minute minor for slashing.

With Washington on the power play for the game’s remaining 1:17, Winnipeg stole the puck back, brought it into the Capitals’ zone and Head Coach Paul Maurice pulled Hellebuyck once again. This time, captain Blake Wheeler found Scheifele alone in the slot, who waited for a screen to form, before ripping home the game-tying-goal with 14.4 seconds left to play.

An exceptionally fast-paced overtime period saw two-and-a-half intense minutes of four-on-four play, before Scheifele walked the puck into the Washington zone and fed defenceman Tyler Myers for the game-winning strike, three-on-three. Fittingly number 57 ended up winning game number 57 for the Jets.

Winnipeg completed the comeback despite being short-handed and pulling their goaltender for the extra attacker twice in the final 1:45.

The Jets will finish off their homestand with 7:00 P.M. games against Colorado, Florida and Los Angeles on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday, respectively. Action from each game at Bell MTS Place can be seen live on TSN3.

Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post

Photos by James Carey Lauder