By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck knew he picked a good time to put up a 42-save performance in a 4-0 victory over the rival Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
His fourth shutout of the season — and the 28th of his career — kept the Jets (30-24-10) in the race for a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“We were always in the mix, but now we’re really in the mix,” Hellebuyck said.
“It’s not how we want to play, but wins at this point are huge, and can continue building and get some momentum off of it.”
The Dallas Stars hold the second wild-card spot with 73 points after beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 Tuesday. Vegas has 72 points and Winnipeg 70. The Stars have four games in hand over the Golden Knights and two on the Jets.
“How many games we got left? 18 now?” Hellebuyck asked reporters after the game. “Shoot, we need to win maybe three quarters of those because when teams see us coming, they are going to step on the gas, too.”
Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and assist for Winnipeg. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Neal Pionk also scored, and Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor each contributed a pair of assists.
The injury-riddled Golden Knights dropped to 34-28-4, and extended their road losing skid to seven games and two shutouts in a row.
Playing in back-to-back games, goalie Logan Thompson stopped 22 shots for Vegas. He was also in net for the team’s 3-0 loss to Minnesota Monday night.
“He’s been playing well. I think that’s the bottom line,” Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer said of giving Thompson the nod.
The Jets were starting a four-game homestand and a stretch of six games in 10 days.
A recent trend of taking a while to get their first shot on goal reared its head again for Winnipeg in the opening period.
The Jets didn’t fire a puck on Thompson until 15:06, when Ehlers made the netminder work and the crowd gave a rousing Bronx cheer. Paul Stastny used the Ehlers’ rebound to notch his team’s second shot. Vegas had 11 shots at that point.
The slump in shots included 61 seconds of power-play time for Winnipeg. Vegas forward Paul Cotter was called for hooking at 13:27, followed by Jets captain Wheeler getting dinged for the same infraction at 14:28.
Hellebuyck stayed alert after a few Winnipeg turnovers, including denying Jack Eichel on his scoring chance.
“Any team that’s trying to win the Stanley Cup needs a goalie like that (who) can help you in games when you’re not playing that well,” Dubois said of the Jets star goalie. “Bucky was huge for us tonight.”
The opening period ended with the visitors ahead on shots 17-4.
“Not getting out of that first period with a goal I think really hurt us,” DeBoer said. “I thought we did everything right, but you’ve got to score to win games in this league and we didn’t score on this trip.”
The Jets only took 5:06 to get their first shot on goal in the middle period.
They made the second shot count when Dubois scored his 25th goal of the season on the power play off a rebound at 6:16.
Evgeny Svechnikov had a goal erased two minutes later after Vegas successfully challenged that Dubois was offside.
Scheifele deflected in an Ehlers’ shot at 15:14 to make it 2-0.
Shots on goal in the second were 12-11 for the Knights.
Early in the third, Hellebuyck stopped prime scoring chances by Dylan Coghlan at even strength and Chandler Stephenson on the power play.
“We’ve been trailing all our games for the past month and a half almost now,” Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “It’s kind of hard on the body. Definitely more exhausting.
“We’ve got to find a way to get the first few ones here.”
Pionk notched his third goal of the season with a one-timer at 11:06 and Ehlers contributed his 19th at 13:51.
Winnipeg won the season series between the clubs 3-0.
Newly acquired Jets forwards Mason Appleton (Seattle) and Zach Sanford (Ottawa) played the wings with Stastny on the third line.
Winnipeg hosts the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. Vegas is home to the Nashville Predators the same day.
NOTES: The Jets went 1 for 2 with the man advantage. The Golden Knights failed to score on three power plays. … Ehlers has a goal in five straight games and is on a six-game point run with five goals and three assists. … Connor extended his career-high point streak to eight games, with six goals and 11 assists across the stretch.