By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Forward Nikolaj Ehlers salvaged the game for Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
After the Jets surrendered the tying goal with 14 seconds left in the third period, Ehlers scored on a breakaway just 21 seconds into extra time, giving Winnipeg a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I like the five hole,” Ehlers said. “I did a couple shoulder checks there. I just didn’t want to come in with too much speed, and that’s why I kind of let up there a little bit. That’s why I was checking to see where (Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins) was at.”
Kyle Connor, who extended his points streak to 10 games with a goal and an assist, sprang Ehlers for the solo chance.
“Ehlers is a pretty good player,” said Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen. “You’d love to have a save there if you can, but again, it’s a breakaway. Generally, the shooters have the advantage, they have the puck. But (Merzlikins) made some real key saves for us at key times.”
Columbus forward Oliver Bjorkstrand forced extra time with a power-play goal with 14 seconds left on the clock after Winnipeg defenceman Josh Morrissey was handed a slashing penalty.
Brendan Gaunce and Adam Boqvist also scored for the Blue Jackets in regulation.
Goals from Morrissey, Connor and Dominic Toninato put the Jets up 3-2 heading into the final frame.
Eric Comrie stopped 32-of-36 shots for Winnipeg (31-25-10) and Merzlikins made 28 saves on 32 shots for Columbus (32-29-4).
Comrie, the Jets backup, worked hard for the win, Ehlers said.
“Yeah, he doesn’t play a lot, but when he does, he plays fantastic,” he said.
Morrissey scored a power-play goal with 31 seconds left in the second period to give Winnipeg a 3-2 lead.
Former Jets forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic played against their former team for the first time since being dealt to Columbus back in January 2021.
“It was obviously a special night to come back and obviously, two points would’ve been more fun, but we’ll take one this time,” Laine said. “Overall, I think it was a pretty tight game, but we just couldn’t finish at the end.”
Both players, as well as former Jets coach Pascal Vincent, received a warm welcome from the fans before the game.
“It was cool,” Laine said. “You don’t know before what kind of welcome you’re going to get and, yeah, I was pretty happy with mine. It was great to hear when everyone clapped their hands and cheered for all of us.”
Roslovic, who had an assist, concurred.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “I mean, a little nervous energy. You know, I just play the game and try to play well and do the right things and keep on building.”
Larsen sympathized with his players.
“It’s a strange day for them, no matter how you look at it, no matter how you say it,” the Blue Jackets coach said. “They say probably all the right things in the media, but it’s a different experience when you come back after having been a part of an organization as long as they were. I thought they settled in fine.”
It was the third of a four-game homestand for the Jets, who will host the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. The Blue Jackets will play the Wild in Minnesota on Saturday.
NOTE: Jets forward Jansen Harkins suffered an upper-body injury in the first period, tried to come back in the second, then retired for the night … Jets centre Adam Lowry returned after missing three games due to COVID protocol