A playoff-bound team on a six-game losing streak can’t ask for little more than a date with the Ottawa Senators to help break out of their funk. But if the Winnipeg Jets thought they could pick up an easy win on Monday night, they were sorely mistaken. The underdog Sens gave the favourites everything they could handle and then some, riding an outstanding performance in net from Filip Gustavsson and a pair of particularly thrilling goals to a 2-1 victory in regulation.
The Sens faced no shortage of adversity in this one. Thomas Chabot, the team’s best defenseman and a player who averages nearly 27 minutes of ice time, had to leave the game in the first period after taking a hit from Logan Stanley and did not return. On top of that, Ottawa spent huge portions of the game on the back foot, giving the Jets six power play opportunities and forcing Gustavsson to make 17 saves in the second period alone.
But being a man down turned out to help the Senators more than it did the Jets, because while Winnipeg couldn’t manage a single goal on the advantage, the Sens’ Connor Brown opened the scoring in the first with a shorthanded goal made possible by some stellar hustle by Nick Paul. (Say whatever you want about the Sens, but even in these relatively pointless games their skaters are frickin’ determined.) Brown’s goal, aside from holding up as the game’s only score for most of the night, also served to reignite the dying embers of his otherworldly hot streak from a few weeks ago. Brown hadn’t managed a point his last four, but had tallied eleven goals in his 12 games prior.
As the game wore on, and opportunities kept getting wasted, and the possibility of a seven-game losing streak started to look more and more like a reality for the Jets, the frustration seemed to build throughout the Winnipeg lines. And Ottawa’s hard-nosed style of play didn’t help things. After a scrum in front of Gustavsson, Mark Scheifele got caught on camera seemingly implying that a certain brand of dickheadedness runs in Brady Tkachuk’s family. (I’d take that as a compliment, personally, and it’s quite probable that Brady does as well, but Scheifele didn’t seem to mean it as one.)
Finally, in a four-on-four situation with 10 minutes remaining in the third, the Jets found that one break they had been craving. A wrister from Josh Morrissey in some open ice just managed to trickle past Gustavsson, finally breaking the shutout of a very young netminder who—in limited appearances—has been the best that Ottawa’s been able to put between the pipes this year.
But just when it looked as though the Jets would at least be able to earn their first point since April 15, Nikita Zaitsev ruined all plans for an overtime with a stunning, demoralizing blast from distance. Zaitsev’s three goals in his two years with the Sens had all been on empty nets, but he looked like a 40-goal sniper right here, as his shot soared above Adam Lowry’s body on the ice and over an unprepared Laurent Brossoit’s shoulder for the late lead.
“It’s unbelievable actually,” Zaitsev said afterwards. “I forget that feeling to score on a goalie.”
Seventy-three seconds later, the Sens could celebrate their seventh victory (against three losses) in the past three weeks. They will look to keep it going on Wednesday against Cole Caufield and the Montreal Canadiens, against whom they are a strong 5-3-1 on the year.