WINNIPEG — On a 7-5 Saturday night in Winnipeg, Jack Campbell just needed a big save or two.
“Frankly, right now I’m just trying to make all the ones I should have,” he said, after a loss you can pin squarely on Edmonton’s struggling netminder, another lousy night in a long, lousy season for Campbell.
You can’t imagine a more entertaining game than the one the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers rolled out here on Hockey Night in Canada, a Smythe Division special with Josh Morrissey playing the role of Phil Housley and Leon Draisaitl as Jari Kurri, his hat trick bringing a cascade of hats from the sold-out stands at the Canada Life Centre.
And playing the role of Grant Fuhr?
That was Jets tendy Connor Hellebuyck, who gave the Oilers five, but turned back into a Vezina winner as they sought No. 6 for the game’s final 17 minutes, the Jets clinging to a 6-5 lead.
Finally, Winnipeg scored an empty netter to send the folks out onto Portage Ave. with smiles on their faces.
Alas, Campbell was the Pokey Reddick of this nostalgic night. He surely was not “The Bandit,” Daniel Berthiaume.
Campbell mixed in a few dazzling saves, but he couldn’t make enough of the stops you expect from your goalie. The kind that make five goals enough to at least get a point, if not two.
“It’s disappointing,” bemoaned Campbell. “The guys played great, I’ve been working super hard, feeling good. … It’s just disappointing to let them down. A couple I want back and that would have been the difference.”
This was a high event night. The kind goalies typically love to play in.
“It was a fun game, but just disappointing. A couple goals that I’d like back,” Campbell said. “The guy (Kyle Capobianco) beats me high glove, (Josh) Morrissey found a way to beat me from the point, and (Morgan Barron went) five-hole on the breakaway. Definitely a tough one to swallow.”
Note the names: Not Scheifele, Wheeler and Connor, but Capobianco and Barron.
Morrissey’s second goal was a real killer. His power-play point shot appeared to be heading wide, but Campbell flashed the blocker and deflected it into his own cage, making it a 6-4 game at 19:58 of the second period.
How did that one elude Campbell?
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe it went in. Yeah, gotta have it.
“I just know I can be so much better for this group. I’m definitely gonna keep working to get there,” he said, words we’ve been hearing all year from the likeable, but less than reliable netminder.
His numbers — as we enter the final quarter of the season — are subterranean: an .882 save percentage and a goals-against average of 3.57.
Edmonton has two more back-to-backs left on their schedule. If Stuart Skinner continues to play dependably, those could be the only starts left for Campbell in the 2022-23 regular season.
“Six is a lot to try to ask the guys,” he said. “Gotta have a couple more (saves).”
Hockey teams are like your golf swing. We all have a telltale miss, and for the Oilers, when they lack structure, wildy entertaining hockey ensues.
This was firewagon shinny at its finest, an absolute thriller for the hockey fan, with Draisaitl scoring goals 13 and seven seconds into separate power plays, sniping goals No. 39, 40 and 41 on the season.
Connor McDavid had Jets fans oohing and awing all night and somehow counted just one assist, while Evan Bouchard continued to produce in his role as a power-play quarterback, adding three helpers.
“It’s obvious that we can play that way, but that’s not the style that we want to play,” said Draisaitl, who had five goals and an assist in this two-game split with the Jets. “We play to win the race to make the playoffs here. So I’d rather take a 1-0 win.”
Draisaitl has scored in five straight road games and became the fifth player in Oilers history to record his fourth 40-goal campaign, alongside Wayne Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, Kurri and McDavid.
Alas, five goals weren’t enough Saturday in Winnipeg, where the Oilers played mentally tired on their second game in 24 hours, and the fourth game in six nights.
“That’s when you have to trust your structure and play towards your structure because that protects everybody,” Woodcroft assessed. “Tonight we didn’t do a good enough job of that. We scored enough to win, but we didn’t defend well enough to win.”
Yeah, but what a blast to watch, right coach?
“I think both coaching staffs look at that game as a lot of sloppy mistakes,” he said. “In the end, they found that extra goal, found the extra save, and they found the two points.
“We didn’t get that tonight.”