For 50 days, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets avoided each other after their season-series opener on the fourth night of the regular season.
But for some time, the North Divison’s top two teams by points percentage were headed on a collision course — with three games in five nights.
With the Jets continuing a five-game road trip, and the Maple Leafs returning home from one of their own — the visitors came out on the winning end of a spirited affair with a 4-3 victory at Scotiabank Arena.
If there was ever an image to put beside the phrase “bounce-back” in the dictionary, Connor Hellebucyk could be it.
The Jets’ goaltender stopped 31 straight shots — and 36 of 39 overall — for the win just two nights after being pulled in an ugly loss to Montreal.
Zach Hyman opened the scoring on a coast-to-coast rush, taking the puck all the way from the Leafs’ zone through Kyle Connor and lifting a backhander past Hellebuyck.
On their second power-play of the period, Neal Pionk’s shot from the blue-line was tipped past Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen to tie the score at one.
The Leafs have now allowed four power-play goals against in their past three games, evidence of a middling penalty kill that ranks 19th in the NHL — one of the team’s worst statistical categories relative to the rest of the league.
On his clubs’ first power-play of the game, Auston Matthews scored his 19th goal of the year – but his first in 17 days — to restore the hosts’ lead heading into the break.
Nathan Beaulieu exited the game just two minutes into the second frame, blocking a shot from John Tavares that injured his left hand.
The Jets’ offense would continue to come from the blue-line on their second goal, as defenseman Josh Morrissey scores his first of the year on a wrister from the point that once again was deflected before passing Andersen.
Less than five minutes later, the Jets would have their first lead of the night when Nikolaj Ehlers used the net to fool Toronto defenseman Justin Holl, before feeding a pass into the slot for a wide-open Kyle Connor.
Mason Appleton’s drive to the net was rewarded with his seventh goal of the year 7:52 into the third period, extending the visitors’ lead.
The Jets did their best to stifle any attempt from the Leafs to come back in the game’s waning minutes, but Matthews was able to cut the lead to one with his teams’ net empty, jamming home a puck in front of the crease.
Hellebuyck would come up with some of his biggest of his 36 saves after that – and his teammates were able to congratulate him as the horn sounded, and the Jets skated off with the win.
His .923 save percentage easily bested that of Andersen, who stopped 19 of 23 for a .826 rate.
Morrissey logged a season-high 29:00 of time-on-ice as the Jets played over half the game with five defensemen – while Pionk recorded three assists.
For the Leafs, their losing streak has reached three games for the first time all season.
After having two consecutive days off following a loss to Montreal on Saturday, the Jets won’t be afforded that luxury again until mid-April — with Tuesday’s game beginning a stretch of 21 games in 39 nights.
After the Jets tied the season series at a game apiece, the two clubs resume their three-game set Thursday night on the ice in Toronto at 6 p.m.
Kelly Moore will have the pre-game show live on 680 CJOB at 4 p.m. — Jamie Thomas and Paul Edmonds have the call of the game two hours later.
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