NEWARK, N.J. — Only a scant number of seconds remained in regulation before Winnipeg Jets right winger Blake Wheeler was presented the puck and a wide-open net staring at him to complete one of the more remarkable comebacks in franchise history.
An embarrassing miss followed. But Wheeler’s stick work did end up proving decisive in giving the Jets a memorable first victory of the new season.
Wheeler scored in the fourth round of the shootout as the Jets, once down 4-0 late in the second period, stormed back to defeat the New Jersey Devils 5-4 in the Devils’ season opener of Friday night at the Prudential Center. Backup goalkeeper Laurent Brossoit made 35 saves, including a perfect 12-for-12 in a third period where the Jets scored three times without reply to force the extra session.
“We stayed with it and stayed together as a group,” Wheeler said. “Just kept fighting and once after another, we just kept getting bounces to go our way.”
One bounce that did not go Wheeler’s way came right before the end of regulation, when Wheeler somehow hit the post and missed on the rebound in close with Devils goalkeeper Mackenzie Blackwood hopelessly out of position at the end of the third period.
As it turned out, the 12-year pro’s shocking miss will be only a footnote in an early-season thriller, especially after beating Blackwood high with a backhand in the first extra round of the shootout to end proceedings.
“You play enough years in this league and you’re going to look stupid,” Wheeler said. “The good news is, though, I have it within myself to not want to back away from that opportunity after missing a couple of layups.”
Dmitry Kulikov’s goal with 11 seconds in the second period started the comeback for the Jets. From there, Jack Roslovic, Mathieu Perreault and Neal Pionk scored in the third to erase Winnipeg’s 4-1 deficit going into the final period.
Roslovic’s goal saw Devils goalkeeper Cory Schneider, who had made 19 saves on 21 attempts, suffer an injury while attempting the save before leaving the contest in place of Blackwood.
Still, New Jersey held a two-goal lead at that juncture, but Winnipeg had already gathered enough momentum that New Jersey’s near-perfect play in the first 40 minutes was on its way to being undone.
“We got the 4-0 lead and we didn’t play smart enough when we had it,” Devils head coach John Hynes said.
The loss not only spoiled a prolific offensive performance collectively but also put a damper on the debuts of a number of players on the reshaped Devils, including 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Hughes, former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, forward Wayne Simmonds and KHL standout forward Nikita Gusev.
Almost all of the new faces paid immediate dividends; Gusev opened the scoring with his first NHL goal just before the end of the first period; Simmonds had the primary assist on Blake Coleman’s first goal that gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead 1:42 into the second peripd; and Subban had an assist on Coleman’s spectacular second goal, as the latter found the top shelf on a one-handed backhand while falling to the ice at 13:52 to give New Jersey a 4-0 lead.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Friday evening’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST 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 30 pictures in total.