– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, NJ — Mark Scheifele thought his best opportunity to win the game for the Winnipeg Jets — one that saw him possesses the puck with Blake Wheeler on a 2-on-1, bearing down on the goalkeeper — would be his team’s last realistic chance to win the contest and, once that went begging and the exhaustion from a physically and emotionally-draining rollercoaster of a game set in further after the miss, there was barely any time to make up for flubbing his golden opportunity.
Just a few seconds later, however, his last-ditch hustle play made up for it…and then some.
Scheifele scored the game-winning goal off of his own rebound after coming up with a steal in the offensive zone as the Jets defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime at the Prudential Center in one of the more thrilling finishes in the league this season.
In a see-saw overtime affair that had already seen saves made on a Devils’ 2-on-0 opportunity as well as two point-blank saves on breakaways by the Jets’ Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, Scheifele and Wheeler — Winnipeg’s scoring leaders on the season — misconnected on a 2-on-1 with less than 20 seconds remaining but were given a reprieve when a back-checking Scheifele stole the puck from Devils center Nico Hischier as Hischier was attempting to skate out of the zone. With his second chance, Scheifele ended the game, beating a sprawling Kinkaid on the rebound after his first shot was saved.
“It all started with a bad pass from me to [Wheeler],” Scheifele said. “I saw that [Hischier] kind of exposed it a little bit so I grabbed it from him. I was pretty exhausted at the time so I just wanted to get a shot off and I’m happy the rebound came to me.”
Scheifele’s hustle gave Winnipeg its first winning streak since the team won three straight from Nov. 9 to Nov. 14.
“That play easily dies right there. They’re tired and that was some real good gut check there,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. “They worked for that. That’s a heavy, heavy goal to score at that time in the game.”
Winnipeg appeared to have the game in control when it scored two goals in a span of 2:49 to break a 1-1 tie midway through the third period, the first coming from defenseman Josh Morrissey at 10:32. The Jets doubled their lead not too long after no call was made when Devils forward Kyle Palmieri appeared to be pulled down by defenseman Jacob Trouba, as Winnipeg quickly went back down the ice and converted when Andrew Copp scored past Kinkaid off of a rebound in front of goal.
New Jersey, which now has lost five consecutive games and seven out of eight, staged a furious comeback in the final five minutes of regulation, starting when Jesper Bratt’s wrist shot beat a screened Laurent Brossoit in the Jets’ goal on the power play at 15:41 to reduce New Jersey’s arrears to 3-2.
Just moments after New Jersey pulled Kinkaid from goal for the extra attacker, the Devils tied it during a chaotic goal-mouth scramble with 1:56 remaining. Brian Boyle, the extra attacker, unleashed a slap shot seconds after hopping onto the ice that was saved by Brossoit, but the Devils swiped away numerous times at the rebound in the crease before Taylor Hall pushed the puck in the net to tie the score. Winnipeg challenged the play for goaltender interference, but Hall leaped over a prone Brossoit in the crease and did not make contact with the goalkeeper, allowing the goal to stand.
“We had a couple of lapses there in the third period that wound up in the back of our net,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “But as I said, when you look at the team, you have to compliment the guys and the willingness to continue to battle. Draw a penalty, get one on the power play and then we wound up getting one on the 6-on-5.
“We would like to have two points, we need to get two points, but I think when you look at the way we battled tonight, I think that’s something we can build on for sure,” Hynes continued.
Both goaltenders, Brossoit and Kinkaid, were at their best in the overtime session to keep their teams in the game. Brossoit, who made 36 saves (27 in the first two periods), denied Hall on a 2-on-0 break early in the overtime session and, a minute later, played a perfect pass halfway up the ice to Laine, who was denied by a glove save by Kinkaid, one of his 34 saves. Kinkaid’s attempt at an outlet pass immediately after the save on Laine was intercepted by Connor, who was free on goal but was also denied by a sprawling glove save by Kinkaid.
New Jersey opened the scoring 6:45 into the first period on Marcus Johansson’s fifth goal of the season before Scheifele tied the score with his first of two goals in the contest at 4:25 of the second.
Winnipeg continues its New York City area road trip by taking on the New York Rangers on Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden before playing the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday evening’s game, with all photos taken by New Jersey-based photographer Arturo Holmes. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 22 pictures in total.