By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Blake Wheeler wasn’t ready to describe the ups and downs of the Winnipeg Jets’ 4-3 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Are you serious? We’ve got places to be,” joked Wheeler after scoring the decisive goal Wednesday night.
Auston Matthews scored twice, including the game-tying goal with 14 seconds left in the third, for his 30th and 31st goals of the season.
Matthews became the first player in Maple Leafs history to have 30 or more goals in the first four seasons of his career. He also joined Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin as the only active player to accomplish that feat.
But Wheeler helped the Jets overshadow Matthews’s milestone in the shootout when he slowed up, before snapping the puck past Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen.
“I saw with the first three guys he was playing pretty deep in the net so I tried to show him a little bit of speed and back him off, then slow down on him,” said Wheeler, whose winner came after Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine scored in the shootout. “Our goalies tell us all the time that it’s so hard when you’re stopped on the goal-line and you’re trying to read what’s coming next.”
Nikolaj Ehlers, Mason Appleton and Scheifele scored in regulation time as the Jets (24-16-4) won their second straight game. Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for the win.
Dmytro Timashov scored in the second period for Toronto (24-15-6). Jason Spezza and Matthews also scored in the shootout.
Andersen stopped 25 shots two days after being pulled early in the second period of the Maple Leafs’ 6-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the first time Toronto has lost back-to-back games since falling to Philadelphia and Colorado on Dec. 3 and 4.
After pulling Andersen at the end of the third and calling a timeout with less than a minute left to play, the Maple Leafs won a faceoff in Winnipeg’s end. The puck came out to Matthews who rifled a slapshot past Hellebuyck to the delight of the 19,397 in attendance.
When asked by a reporter if he thought the officials had missed a call against the Maple Leafs on the game-tying goal, Jets head coach Paul Maurice deftly sidestepped the question.
“You saw the same thing. You have free license,” said Maurice. “Don’t quote me, just whatever you think about what happened there is what I thought happened.”
Andersen had Scotiabank Arena on its feet twice in the extra period, drawing chants of “Freddie!” including a game-saving stop on a 2-on-0 breakaway by Laine and Jack Rosolovic.
“I didn’t like it all. Didn’t enjoy any of it, as a matter of fact. I thought it was horrible for the Jets,” said Maurice. “But that’s probably what you do see (in 3-on-3 overtime). Specialness comes out in the three-on-three.”
Andersen’s late-game heroics were a far cry from a bad goal he allowed early in the first period. He tripped over his own feet as he came out to play the puck, falling to the ice and letting the puck cycle behind the net, where Ehlers picked it up and quickly scored.
“I decided I wasn’t going to go play the puck and caught an edge when I was trying to stop,” said Andersen. “Took too long to get up.”
Just as Winnipeg’s goal was announced, Mitch Marner backhanded a pass to Matthews, who snapped the puck past Hellebuyck to tie it 1-1.
With the Jets shorthanded, Appleton stripped John Tavares of the puck at Toronto’s own blue line and broke in on Andersen with the Maple Leafs captain right on his tail. Appleton wristed his first goal of the year past Andersen for a 2-1 Winnipeg lead.
“A couple mistakes put us behind a lot of the night and that’s on me,” said Tavares.
Timashov and Scheifele traded goals in the second period, giving the Jets a 3-2 lead and setting up Matthews’s game-tying score.
Eight players from Canada’s gold-medal team from the world junior hockey championship were honoured in a pre-game ceremony. Kevin Bahl, Nico Daws, Ty Dellandrea, Jamie Drysdale, Aidan Dudas, Liam Foudy, Connor McMichael and Akil Thomas all congregated at centre ice to drop the puck for Scheifele and Tavares.
A moment of silence honouring the 63 Canadians who died in a plane crash in Iran earlier Wednesday was observed following the ceremonial puck drop. A video of a Canadian flag at half staff was played as players from the Maple Leafs, Jets, and Canada’s junior team all stood solemnly on the ice before the singing of the national anthem.