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Jets overcome controversy to secure critical victory in Central race


DALLAS — The confusion was real, though the reactions weren’t quite as raw as they might have been had the Winnipeg Jets not been able to find a way to squeeze out the extra point after another bizarre and entertaining finish.

The 5-4 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night represented an impressive bounce-back effort after a 6-1 shellacking to the Minnesota Wild two days earlier, but by allowing two more extra attacker goals, there’s clearly an area the Jets are going to need to clean up in short order as they’ve given up five of those goals in two games over a three-game span.

That the game even required overtime was a point of contention for the Jets, who couldn’t believe the fourth goal by the Stars was allowed to count, as it came with goalie Connor Hellebuyck sprawled out on the ice with his mask knocked off and taking cover after a collision with Stars captain Jamie Benn.

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After a video review that was initiated by the NHL situation room, the goal was allowed to count as the officials deemed that the actions of Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey led to Benn’s contact with Hellebuyck.

The NHL said in a statement that “the decision was made in accordance with Note 2 of Rule 38.11 (ii) which states, in part, that the goal should be allowed because ‘the attacking Player was pushed, shoved or fouled by the defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper.’”

Morrissey conceded that he pushed Benn on the play, though he couldn’t believe the goal stood or that overtime was required.

“Obviously I hit Benn, as a result he goes into (Hellebuyck). But I don’t see a reality where the goalie can have no helmet on and a goal be allowed three seconds after,” said Morrissey, who regrouped quickly and supplied the OT winner 34 seconds into the three-on-three session. “If that’s the rule, that’s the rule. I just don’t see how that’s (allowed), for player safety, he’s lying on the ice without a helmet on, in front of the net. If he takes a shot off the face, that’s an extremely dangerous situation. So it’s pretty cut and dry to me. Goalie’s helmet comes off, whether or not I push a guy into him — and again it’s a few seconds later — so I don’t understand the call there.”

Jets head coach Rick Bowness displayed a calm demeanour as he spoke to reporters following the game, but was clearly miffed by the interpretation of the rule and subsequent decision that was made.

“Somebody is going to have to explain to me the difference between their goalie losing his goalie pad and a whistle (blowing) and our goalie being flat down with no mask on and no whistle,” said Bowness, referencing a play earlier where Stars defenceman Colin Miller knocked the right pad off goalie Jake Oettinger. “Somebody has got to explain that to me.”

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Part of the debate was related to whether or not the Stars had an immediate scoring chance in the time between Benn knocking Hellebuyck’s mask off and the Stars getting the puck back to the left point, where Jason Robertson scored his second of the game by firing a shot into the vacated net as Hellebuyck was down on the ice, covering his head with his glove and blocker for protection.

“Well they made a play. They got control of the puck. And then they were still able to make a play, and he was still able to shoot the puck,” said Bowness, noting that Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was seeking further clarity from the NHL about the interpretation of what transpired. “I’ve got to be careful what I say.”

While the video review was ongoing, the Jets weren’t necessarily confident the goal would be disallowed.

“I was fairly pessimistic,” said Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler, who sprung Morrissey for the breakaway that led to the game-winning goal. “I mean, you hate to put it into somebody else’s hands. That’s how I felt.”

The Stars might not have required such a remarkable finish were it not for a ridiculous save that Hellebuyck made off Tyler Seguin, a consistent thorn in the side of the Jets.

After a shot from Denis Gurianov rattled off the post, Seguin kicked the rebound from his skate to his stick and appeared ready to shoot the puck into an open net before Hellebuyck stuck out his right arm in desperation and got his paddle down to prevent it from going in.

“Yeah, it was an incredible save. He’s capable of doing those things,” said Wheeler. “Unfortunately, sometimes we put him in those positions but that’s what makes him the best in the league is he bails us out when we have a couple of leaks in the defence and, I mean, that was one of his best for sure.”

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In the grand scheme of things, the Jets are going to be disappointed with the call and also the fact that a Central Division opponent they’re chasing in the standings found a way to steal a point in a game where they had a two-goal lead late and allowed two goals in a minute and 52 seconds.

However, the bigger picture saw the Jets quickly put the most lopsided loss off the season in the rearview mirror.

And after Bowness spoke to the group about the responsibility that comes with being a team that’s in the mix to be chasing for top spot in the Central and that a certain standard needs to be met on a consistent basis.

This was more like the Jets team that’s been able to put together a 12-5-1 record heading into Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks that will close out this three-game trip and bring the team to the 20-game mark of the campaign.

“It’s pretty clear for us when we watch the video and games we’ve played really well — the game we played at home against these guys, most of the Carolina game, and a lot of other nights this year — and when we don’t play that way, we go into Minnesota and get smoked,” said Morrissey. “If you need any evidence or reassurance that there is a certain way we have to play, that’s it right there. Our guys are committed to that. We all owned it, from staff down to the players. We came back to the rink excited here today. The late goals put a damper on it but I thought we played a heck of a game.”

Morrissey showed great resilience himself, bouncing back quickly to score the overtime winner.

His instincts were on display as he broke up the ice after Wheeler got the puck and then he won a foot race with Robertson to create enough separation on the breakaway before beating Oettinger through the five hole for his fourth goal of the season — and second OT winner of the week.

“Oh my God, you’ve got to love him. Did you see him skating there at the end? He was flat out flying,” said Bowness. “He’s just been great for us all year. And when you get him into a foot race, then look out. He’s just been outstanding for us all year. That was pretty exciting. You could just see him pulling away, and you knew he was going to get a shot away. And that just looked like a goal scorer walking in, those last two overtimes.”

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The Jets welcomed defenceman Dylan DeMelo back into the lineup after he missed the past three games with an upper-body injury and he wasn’t eased back in.

Instead, he was promoted to the top pair with Morrissey and played nearly 24 minutes, chipping in a pair of assists.

“It shows how much we missed him. He was outstanding,” said Bowness. “Very reliable, moved the puck really well. He’s a good partner for (Morrissey), they’ve played together a long time. I loved (DeMelo’s) game.”

Although Bowness went out of his way after the morning skate to say he was focused on the game itself and not his return to Dallas — after missing the first meeting because of COVID-19 — there was a tribute played on the scoreboard during a stoppage in play thanking him for his time with the Stars.

When cameras caught Bowness on the Jets bench, he smiled and waved to the crowd, touching his heart in a gesture of his own that those in attendance clearly appreciated.

“I loved it. A lot of good memories. The only disappointing thing in my years here was when we went to the Stanley Cup Finals and we couldn’t have our fans there,” said Bowness. “That’s disappointing. You get to the finals, and I know this atmosphere from the year before in the playoffs, they’ve got great fans and a great atmosphere. The only disappointment I have from leaving here is that, going to the Finals and being in the bubble in Edmonton, and not having the fans here enjoy (those) games.”

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