By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele used his creativity to score once and set up three others to lead Winnipeg to a 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.
Forward Paul Stastny added two goals and captain Blake Wheeler recorded his 500th and 501st assist as a member of the Jets/Thrashers franchise.
“We have guys in the right spots,” Scheifele said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. We’ve found some consistency being in the right spots. Our D were moving really well tonight. That opens up seams, that opens up other guys and gets them on the run, so I liked that part of it. I think we have to see more of that.
“When you have our team making plays and making passes and getting O-zone time, you know, we’re a pretty dangerous team and we need more of that.”
Both Stastny and Josh Morrissey scored into empty nets late in the game. Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Adam Lowry also added goals for Winnipeg.
Connor scored on a shorthanded breakaway midway through the third period. Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev lost the puck when he fell. Connor picked it up and completely deked Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevsky and scored an unassisted goal that increased the lead to 5-3.
“It was really nice,” Scheifele said. “He’s a pretty good player, as I’m sure you guys have seen. It was a big goal. To go up two on those guys is huge. I don’t think there’s any guy we trust more on a breakaway than this guy (Connor) right here.”
Vasilevskiy made 28 saves on 33 shots for the Lightning (37-13-6).
Goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 20 of 24 shots for the Jets (25-22-10) before 12,925 fans at Canada Life Centre.
Russ Colton, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Ryan McDonagh replied for Tampa Bay.
“Take out the three goals we gave up, I thought we did a lot of really good things in the first period,” said Jets coach Dave Lowry. “We created the way we wanted to.”
And they didn’t panic after blowing a 3-1 lead.
“We played our game for 60 minutes tonight,” Lowry said.
After the two teams had skated to a scoreless second period, Dubois scored a power-play goal at 7:25 to give the Jets a 4-3 lead after pouncing on a Connor rebound.
The Lightning had rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in the first period, but could only manage one goal to Winnipeg’s three in the third.
“How many times now in a row have we started behind in a game, having to claw ourselves back?” McDonagh said. “It’s not ideal and it’s not winning hockey. We need to, obviously, individually look at ourselves, change it up and do something different to get ourselves mentally engaged, playing with some pace and playing with some determination to start a game. At least not give ourselves a hole to climb out of.”
Despite their lofty record, the Lightning have been frustrated lately.
“We’re the contenders and when you’re the contenders, you’re going to get everyone’s best and we’re starting to see that now,” said veteran Pat Maroon. “We’ve got to find a way to get ourselves out of this. We’re a good hockey team, we know that … The only player that’s been putting it together is (Vasilevskiy). I believe in the guys. One shift, one game and take it from there … We’ll get out of this.”
It was the final contest of a four-game homestand for the Jets, who will embark on a three-game road trip starting in New Jersey versus the Devils on Thursday.
It was the second of a six-game road trip for the Lightning, who will head to Calgary to face the Flames on Thursday.
Note: The Jets honoured Ste. Anne, Man.’s Jocelyne Larocque, who won the Olympic gold medal with the Canadian women’s hockey team in Beijing, before the game. Larocque dropped the puck in a ceremonial faceoff.