By Trevor Rinn, The Sports Xchange
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Special-teams success and a Mark Scheifele hat trick led the Winnipeg Jets to a 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
Jets winger Patrik Laine recognized just how important the two points were to the team.
“Our division games are always huge because we’re going to need the points for sure, and we’re going to need to take them early and it’s going to get harder and harder as the season goes on,” he said. “We’re going to take every extra point we can get.”
Dallas, entering the game with a league-best power play and No. 2-ranked penalty-kill unit, gave up two power-play goals on three Winnipeg attempts, while never once getting to ice their own power play. Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock put the blame squarely on his own shoulders, but didn’t excuse his team’s effort.
“We weren’t ready to play at the start, and that’s on me,” Hitchcock said. “And we just had too many passengers today.”
The Stars didn’t record their first shot until midway through the first period, and promptly followed it up by taking the game’s first penalty.
Winnipeg converted on the ensuing power play with Scheifele netting his first of the night on a quick pass to the side of the net from Blake Wheeler at10:58.
Wheeler finished with three assists.
The Jets converted again just two minutes later, when Laine broke a four-game scoring drought.
Winnipeg defenseman Dmitry Kulikov came up with the puck in a scrum directly in front of the Dallas net and teed the puck up for Laine, who wasted no time in wiring his shot over goalie Ben Bishop’s glove at 13:04.
Laine, who had been critical of himself earlier in the day, wasn’t ready to declare his scoring struggles over.
“It’s only one goal, but hopefully I’m not struggling in the next game,” he said. “I think we had a really good game with our line, even though they scored two times when we were on the ice, but I think it was a really, really positive game.”
Dallas continued its undisciplined play, with Greg Pateryn heading off for cross-checking merely 30 seconds after the goal, along with teammate Gemel Smith, who squared off with Winnipeg rookie agitator Brendan Lemieux.
Winnipeg’s power play got a Tyler Myers goal — the eventual game winner — from the blue line at 15:16 for a 3-0 lead. Star defenseman Marc Methot and the rest of the team knew they’d have a hard battle to get themselves back into the game.
“We dug ourselves a huge hole there,” Methot said. “We were definitely prepared prior but doing it on the ice is a different ball game and we didn’t seem to bring it in those first 10, 15 minutes. We couldn’t weather that storm. They were in full control, there’s no question they deserved it more than we did.”
Dallas got on the board at 17:59 of the first period. Alexander Radulov waited out Connor Hellebuyck before flipping a backhand over the outstretched goalie, extending his goal-scoring streak to four games.
The bad blood continued to build into the second period, after Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien checked Radulov hard into the end boards. Jamie Benn stepped in to go toe-to-toe with the Winnipeg defender. It got worse when, following his shot, Brendan Lemieux ran into Bishop, leading to a scrum and offsetting penalties to both teams. Things would eventually settle in, with the teams exchanging chances throughout the period.
The Stars put up the only goal of the second period, pulling to within 3-2, when an innocent-looking shot from Mattias Janmark beat Hellebuyck over his glove with 1:34 left in the period.
The third period opened with a peculiar goal that saw Jets defender Josh Morrisey’s shot deflected skyward by Scheifele, with the puck eventually coming down behind an unaware Bishop and into the net.
Winnipeg shut the door after that, content to simply get the puck clear of their zone and deny Dallas any opportunity to generate any sustained offense. Jets rookie Kyle Connor was awarded a penalty shot with five minutes remaining in the game, but he lost the handle and failed to get a shot away.
Scheifele would complete the hat trick with an empty-net goal with one minute remaining. It was the second hat trick in a week for the Jets, who saw Wheeler score three against Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Hellebuyck made 21 saves, while Bishop stopped 22 shots.