By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Nikolaj Ehlers is feeling more and more comfortable with his new linemates.
The winger had a goal and two assists to lead the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes in a critical Western Conference contest on Monday night.
“We’ve been able to create some good chemistry,” said Ehlers, who has been skating with centre Cody Eakin and Patrik Laine. “But we still have some things we need to clean up. But it’s nice to see that it’s going the right way and we’re making plays. It feels good.”
Eakin broke a 2-2 tie at 11:33 of the third period when he picked up the puck and backhanded a shot past Arizona netminder Darcy Kuemper. It was his first goal since being acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 21. Ehlers and Laine assisted.
The victory moves Winnipeg (36-28-6) to 78 points, four ahead of Arizona (33-29-8) and into a wild-card spot in the West. It was the last of a three-game homestand for the Jets, who have won six straight home games to improve to 20-14-3 at Bell MTS Place.
“It’s good,” Ehlers said.
“We wanted to finish off this home stretch the right way. That first period, we created a bunch of good stuff. Then, the second period we came out the right way. The first shift that we had we were in their zone for a minute thirty or whatever. So, we came out the right way and we were able to continue that for the next 40 minutes and get those two points. We feel good. We’re happy with where we’re at. But we’ve still got a couple other levels to get to.”
Mark Scheifele, with an empty-netter and defenceman Tucker Poolman also scored for Winnipeg.
Nick Schmaltz scored both goals for the Coyotes, who led 2-0 after the first period.
“That’s a big game by us,” Eakin said. “Being down two to start, they’re a hungry team. We ended up stopping the bleeding there and finishing it off the right way.
Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves while Kuemper had 30.
“They come hard here at home,” Schmaltz said. “They have a lot of skilled players and we didn’t close out enough guys. We gave them a little bit too much time and space, and when you do that against high-end players, they’re going to make you pay. It’s obviously a frustrating loss. Those are big points.”
The Coyotes are now chasing for a playoff spot.
“We’ve got no choice,” said Arizona coach Rick Tocchet. “We’ve got to pick it up again, we need some more guys to feel the whip and go at it. There’s no other choice. Obviously, the next games get bigger and bigger, and we’ve got to rise to the challenge.”
After trailing 2-0, Poolman knotted the score late in the second period when pounced on Eakin’s rebound, with Ehlers also assisting. Ehlers pulled the Jets to within 2-1 early in the second when he took a stretch pass from Poolman at the blueline, sped around the defenders, then beat Kuemper with a soft knuckler.
The Jets will now embark on a three-game road trip through Western Canada, with the first game against the Oilers in Edmonton on Wednesday.
NOTES: Jets coach Paul Maurice passed Ken Hitchcock (1,598) to move into sole possession of fifth place in all-time games as an NHL head coach on Monday night … Jets centre Adam Lowry returned to action after missing 20 games with an upper-body injury. He fought Lawson Crouse on his first shift.