WINNIPEG – When you challenge your difference makers, this is precisely the type of response a head coach is looking for.
Winnipeg Jets bench boss Rick Bowness voiced his displeasure after Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, challenging his big guns to make an impact in the final game before the break.
To say the group openly accepted the challenge would be a profound understatement.
After falling behind 2-0 to a Central Division rival, the Jets roared back with four unanswered goals in the third period to earn a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues that snapped a three-game losing skid on Monday night.
Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey scored twice and Mark Scheifele scored a pair of his own to hit the 30-goal mark for the third time in his career.
“I think we handled it pretty good,” Scheifele said with a smile during his post-game address.
Morrissey cued the comeback 40 seconds after Nikita Alexandrov had given the Blues a 2-0 advantage.
After beating Blues goalie Jordan Binnington with a wrister, Morrissey, channeling his inner Tom Brady, belted out “Let’s F-ing Go, let’s F-ing Go” as part of an emotional celebration.
Morrissey would neither confirm, nor deny that he might have to make a contribution to the swear jar prior to heading to Florida to represent the Jets in the NHL All-Star Game along with goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
“You’ll have to read my lips, I guess,” quipped Morrissey, who also scored his fifth game-winner of the season as he moved to 10 goals and 53 points in 52 games. “Obviously a tough little stretch run here, but we’re a heck of a hockey team. You can feel the tension in the rink, obviously fans are getting on us and at times rightfully so, for sure. But we have a great team, we have a great group of guys here and it just felt like we were playing a really good game tonight and not getting rewarded, so I tried to get a little emotion. I just kind of blacked out. We are a dangerous team at home when we’ve got the fans behind us.
“I thought we were good as a whole team, but certainly guys that kind of get counted on to produce, were feeling it and feeling the pressure a little bit. (It’s) nice to just, whether, I don’t know I haven’t looked at the scoresheet, but whether guys showed up win the scoresheet or not, I thought we played a heck of a game. The compete was there, the effort was there that is our identity and everything else kind of come from that, so it was a great response by us and it definitely feels pretty good right now.”
Morrissey was a force throughout the contest and remains in the thick of the Norris Trophy conversation, sitting behind Erik Karlsson (66 points) of the San Jose Sharks and Rasmus Dahlin (55 points) in points among D-men.
On Monday, Morrissey had a game-high 27:27 of ice time and finished with seven shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, three hits and three blocked shots.
“It was awesome. Josh played frickin’ fantastic. He always does, and he got rewarded,” said Scheifele. “A few big goals by him, and he led us tonight, for sure.”
Bowness had the line blender on industrial speed to start the game in a message that was two-fold.
Not only was he seeking an offensive spark for a group that had been held to two goals or fewer in six of the previous eight games, but he was also looking for a bit more defensive responsibility.
“We had to cut down the chances against. We had to play better defensively,” said Bowness. “We had to get to the net. We put a mucker on each line to do both of those things. So let’s play better team defence and let’s make sure we’re getting to the net a lot more than we have been the last couple games.
“The difference makers, when I said that I wasn’t just focused on the offensive guys. We gave up four goals, so it was both sides of it. You get in the situation we’ve been in, we’re down, we’ve lost three in a row, haven’t played well at all, the big guys have to step up – and they all did at once.”
As a result, that sound you hear was a collective exhale: for Jets players, the coaching staff and a fan base that was growing frustrated by a group that had gone 2-5 in the past seven games and had reverted to some bad habits of late.
But rather than go into the break on a four-game losing skid, the Jets turned the tables and sent the Blues to a fifth consecutive loss in the process, building a 16-point cushion over them in the Central Division standings.
The Jets are 32-19-1 on the season and sit one point behind the Dallas Stars in the chase for top spot in both the division and the Western Conference, though the Stars hold a game in hand.
With 30 games left in the campaign coming out of the break, the hard work is just beginning.
“That’s a pretty big swing in that third period. You go from being down 2-0 to winning that game in a pretty fun fashion. It changes everything,” said Scheifele. “A little bit of a sigh of relief and you get to enjoy the break a little bit more. But we have to remember when we come back, the games are only going to ramp up again. We’re going to have to have a few good practices and come back to work and use that third period template as this is the way that we play, that this is every night.”
“This is what the game is all about. You’ve got to get excited, you’ve got to get ramped up and get the crowd into it. Obviously we haven’t played as great as we’d like the last couple games, hearing some boos out there. That’s definitely frustrating. That (win) definitely brought the happiness back in all of us.”