By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Joe Morrow felt a bit like he was wearing glass slippers instead of skates on Wednesday.
The Jets defenceman scored at 12:47 of the third period to lift the Winnipeg Jets to a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their first-round NHL Western Conference playoff series.
“I’ve had a major roller coaster of an NHL career so far,” Morrow, 25, said. “To have a little, I don’t even know if you want to call it a Cinderella story of a night tonight, it makes you feel good.
“It makes all of the bad times and all of the times you’ve battled so hard to try and get an opportunity, it makes them go away. It washes them away and you get to enjoy it in front of a crowd like this and a city like this.”
Morrow was acquired at the trade deadline from Montreal in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. He’d played 38 games for the Canadiens. His career started in 2014-15 with Boston, where he got into 65 games over three seasons. He also played in the American Hockey League from 2012.
“Awesome to see a guy step in, new to the team a little bit, and have a huge effect,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “He’s fit in seamlessly with our group.
“For a guy like him it’s tough, because he’s never really had an established role. Somebody who’s kind of on the outskirts, or in and out a bit.”
Nikolaj Ehlers set up the game-winning goal when he got the puck behind the net and sent it to Morrow at the point. He fired a one-timer that went off Wild forward Charlie Coyle’s stick and past goalie Devan Dubnyk. Morrow is on a pairing with Dustin Byfuglien.
Mark Schiefele, with a power-play goal, and Patrik Laine also scored for Winnipeg, which hosts Game 2 Friday.
Laine became the youngest Finland-born player (19 years, 357 days) in NHL history to score a goal in the playoffs, surpassing Hannu Virta (20 years, 31 days in 1983).
It was the first post-season victory for the franchise dating all the way back to 1999 when the team was the Atlanta Thrashers. Atlanta was swept from the 2007 post-season by the New York Rangers. The franchise relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 and the Jets were also swept out of the playoffs by Anaheim in 2015.
Jets centre Bryan Little has been with the franchise since 2007-08.
“It’s nice to have won one now because that was kind of what people talked about before — this team has never won a playoff game, they’ve only been there twice,” Little said.
“So it’s nice to get that off our backs and, hopefully, we get a lot more.”
Connor Hellebuyck made 18 saves for the Jets, who finished second overall in the NHL and Central Division with 114 points (52-20-10).
Matt Cullen and Zach Parise scored for Minnesota. Dubnyk stopped 37 shots for the Wild, who were third in the division with 101 points (45-26-11).
Cullen and Parise scored a little over two minutes apart to give the Wild a 2-1 lead at 3:58 of the third, but Laine tied it at 4:51.
“I think we view this as a missed opportunity,” Cullen said. “I don’t think we played as well as we can. I think we showed pieces of our game, but I don’t think we played to our level.”
Minnesota is competing in its sixth straight post-season. Last year, the Wild lost their first-round series to St. Louis in five games.
Fans are primed for these playoffs. The “whiteout” crowd of more than 15,000 were chanting “Go Jets Go” and waving white towels before the puck even dropped. Next door to Bell MTS Place, a block was closed for a street party, highlighted by the game shown on two giant screens for fans in the NHL’s smallest market.
Jets forward Mathieu Perreault left in the second period with an upper-body injury and head coach Paul Maurice had no update.