The Associated Press
ANAHEIM, Calif.–No goalie had played more NHL games this season without a shutout than Connor Hellebuyck, who was beginning to wonder why he couldn’t keep a clean sheet.
The Winnipeg netminder finally got it in an important win for the Jets’ playoff chase.
Hellebuyck made 29 saves, and Kyle Connor had a goal and an assist, prevailed 3-0 over the Anaheim Ducks last night for their fourth-straight win.
Anaheim had won six-of-nine in a late-season surge before getting shut down by Hellebuyck in his 13th career shutout, but his first in 55 appearances this year.
Laurent Brossoit was in net for the powerhouse Jets’ sole previous shutout victory of their 44-win season.
“It’s awesome,” said Hellebuyck, who didn’t face a shot until midway through the first period.
“It gets a monkey off my back but it’s a tribute to the way all the guys played,” he stressed.
“I feel like I answered the bell and the guys in front of me made it easy for me.”
Mark Scheifele scored a power-play goal in the first period and Nikolaj Ehlers added a goal for the Jets, who extended their lead atop the Central Division to three points over Nashville.
Jacob Trouba had two assists as the Jets completed a southern California sweep and moved into position to clinch a playoff berth as early as tonight in Vegas.
“It definitely wasn’t a pretty one,” Scheifele conceded. “It definitely wasn’t our best game.
“There’s a lot of things we should have cleaned up and that won’t fly against a good team like Vegas,” he warned.
John Gibson stopped 20 shots for the Ducks, who were blanked for the seventh time in 2019 despite another fairly solid performance on the tail end of a lost season.
“We definitely had our chances,” said forward Jakob Silfverberg. “We should have scored at least one or two, and the game would have been different.
“We took too many penalties,” he noted. “It’s tough killing a lot of penalties.
“Tough to get a rhythm going with all four lines when you’re doing that.”
Winnipeg (44-25-4) has 92 points and a game in hand on Nashville (42-27-5). The Predators have eight games left to make up the deficit or the Jets will win their first division title since relocating from Atlanta.
Winnipeg is headed to the playoffs for the second-straight season after making it just once–and then getting swept by a powerhouse Ducks’ team–in the franchise’s first six seasons up north.
The Ducks, meanwhile, would need an extraordinary late surge to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years and just the third time since the 2004-05 lockout.
The teams met for the first time since the Jets dumped Anaheim 9-3 in Winnipeg on Feb. 2, matching the highest-scoring performance in Winnipeg history and the worst defensive performance in Anaheim history.
The Jets scored a franchise-record six goals in the first period of that Ducks’ demolition in Winnipeg last month but Scheifele got their only goal of the opening period in this rematch, converting a feed from Connor for his team-leading 35th goal of the season.
After a scoreless second, Connor extended the Jets’ lead when he deflected Tyler Myers’ shot for his 29th goal.
“They got a couple of lucky bounces on their goals and we couldn’t find the back of the net,” said Ducks’ assistant coach Marty Wilford.
Ehlers added his 19th goal shortly afterward, when Gibson failed to cover the near post and allowed a stoppable shot to slip through.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Toronto doubled Buffalo 4-2, Vancouver dumped Ottawa 7-4, and Tampa Bay topped Washington 5-4 (OT).