Hellebuyck, Jets blank Wild 1-0 behind Wheeler’s goal
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — This was just the type of performance the Winnipeg Jets wanted.
The Minnesota Wild left town still looking for theirs.
Rookie Connor Hellebuyck became the first goalie to shut out the Wild this season, and the Jets used an early goal by Blake Wheeler to win 1-0 on Friday night.
“It was the perfect road game,” Wheeler said.
Hellebuyck, who won his NHL debut at Minnesota on Nov. 27 with a 3-1 decision, made 24 saves. Detroit is now the only remaining NHL team that hasn’t gone scoreless in a game this season.
“They have a good system, obviously. They played well. But overall, I think we had some chances. We had our looks and just didn’t score any,” Wild left wing Thomas Vanek said.
With Alexander Burmistrov called for tripping with 2:42 left, the Wild had a power play that went to a 6-on-4 when coach Mike Yeo pulled Devan Dubnyk. But the two-man advantage wasn’t enough to keep the Wild from falling to 2-5-1 in their last eight home games. The Wild have five goals in the last four games, and Yeo traced their struggles to that lagging power play.
“It was right there for us. Couldn’t grab a hold of it,” he said.
Just 3:07 into the game, the Jets were on the rush as Wheeler patiently worked on Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin before toe-dragging into the slot and sending a wrist shot past Dubnyk for the early lead as Brodin fell down. That was Wheeler’s third goal in the last four games after going 12 games in a row without scoring. He leads the Jets with 44 points in 45 games.
“There was a lot of excitement in the room and a lot of energy. You could see it in our game,” said Wheeler, the former University of Minnesota standout who played at Breck High School, about 15 miles west of Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild killed off 54 seconds of a 5-on-3 against them in the second period and kept themselves in it without making any glaring mistakes, but the energy the Jets were feeding off was missing for them as the crowd grew restless deeper into the game. They managed only four shots on goal in the middle period.
“We have a group here that’s capable of putting pucks in the net and winning games, and we know that. It’s important to not get frustrated,” Dubnyk said.
The Jets, still seven points behind the Wild with an extra game played, wasted a 4-1 lead over Nashville on Thursday before pulling out a victory on Wheeler’s overtime winner. But with Ondrej Pavelec out until at least late January with a knee injury suffered on Nov. 21, Hellebuyck has been a big boost in the net for the Jets. He raised his record to 11-6-1, having started for the 10th time in the last 11 games.
“He’s poised in the net,” coach Paul Maurice said, adding: “At the end of the day, the biggest piece.”
The Jets gave up four goals each in their last three games.
“I saw everyone paying the price. Everyone was willing to block a shot, and when you see that you know everyone has bought in,” Hellebuyck said.
Still, with a 22-14-8 record for 52 points, the Wild are tied for the most points at the 44-game mark in franchise history. They’re comfortably in the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. They’ve been through these midseason swoons before.
“I’d like to think that what we’ve been through in the past,” Yeo said, “will help us get through what’s in front of us.”
NOTES: The last time the Wild were shut out in the regular season was by Winnipeg, a 2-0 loss here last April 6. ... With Adam Lowry and Drew Stafford scratched with undisclosed injuries, the Jets moved defenseman Adam Pardy up to forward. This was the first game Stafford missed this season. ... The Jets have won three out of four games against the Wild this season. ... This marked the one-year anniversary of Dubnyk’s first game with the Wild, the day after he was acquired in the season-salvaging trade. ... Since the start of 2016, Minnesota’s three professional teams are 0-8-1 at home, with an NFL playoff game loss by the Vikings and an 0-5 record by the Timberwolves in the NBA.