By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Sam Gagner was complimented for more than the two goals he scored in the Detroit Red Wings’ 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.
Gagner, who recorded his 500th NHL career point with a shorthanded goal and added an empty-netter, was praised by Detroit coach Jeff Blashill for the type of player and person he is.
“Sam’s really turned himself into an accountable, 200-foot player,” Blashill said. “He’s got good poise. He’s really, really, really smart. He’s very, very thoughtful as a person and he’s also provided really good leadership.”
The win gave Blashill 200 victories as an NHL head coach.
Michael Rasmussen scored at 9:11 of the third period to break the 1-1 tie. The Surrey, B.C., forward has a goal in three straight games and four in his last five outings.
“I think the biggest thing for young players, or any player, if you want to be a good player in this league, you have to do it night in and night out,” Blashill said. “And so for (Rasmussen) to have a kind of repeat performance – really he’s done it probably three, four, five games in a row here where he’s been real, real good, real solid – I think that’s critical.”
Dylan Larkin had a pair of assists and Thomas Greiss stopped 32 shots for the Wings (28-34-9), who beat Boston 5-3 the night before. Gagner also scored in that game.
Mark Scheifele scored for the Jets (33-28-10), who have lost three straight.
Connor Hellebuyck made 32 saves for Winnipeg, which wraps up a three-game homestand (0-2-0) Friday against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Jets’ playoff hopes are fading in the Western Conference. They sit with 76 points. The idle Nashville Predators have the first wild-card spot with 84 points. The Dallas Stars have 83 and hold the second spot, but weren’t playing Wednesday. The Vegas Golden Knights had 82 points before hosting the Vancouver Canucks (74 points) in a late game.
Winnipeg interim head coach Dave Lowry said the locker room was quiet when he went in after the game.
“As a coach you’d like it to be loud, that you’ve won a hockey game,” Lowry said. “I understand where the players are. I understand the disappointment. That just shows that they care. And that’s a big thing.”
There was more than disappointment.
“I think the reason for the silence is the frustration,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “Obviously we can’t afford to lose games right now. And that’s a game we shouldn’t lose. Just with their schedule and our desperation, they’re playing on a back-to-back.”
Winnipeg welcomed back leading-scorer Kyle Connor and defenceman Nate Schmidt after their stint in COVID-19 protocol.
“I thought that we had a lot of good shifts throughout the game, a lot of zone time,” Connor said of the team. “Maybe trying to be a little too cute with a couple of those passes. Could have been a little more direct.”
The Jets pressured the Wings through most of the first period, but Winnipeg’s fortunes unexpectedly changed when they went on the power play at 18:19.
Larkin got the puck and quickly sent a pass to Gagner at the side of the net, who beat Hellebuyck at 18:40.
It was the third straight game the Jets have given up a shorthanded goal.
The Jets outshot the Wings 13-5 in the opening period, with Greiss stopping some quality Winnipeg scoring chances that Blashill said were key.
The goalie stood up to a Schmidt one-timer, twice denied Paul Stastny in close and made a glove save on a Blake Wheeler breakaway.
Another Schmidt shot from the point was deflected into the net by Scheifele at 6:01.
The Jets looked like they took the lead when Wheeler deflected in Dylan DeMelo’s shot at 9:44, but the Wings successfully challenged for offside and the goal was nixed.
Shots on goal were 22-22 after the second.
After Rasmussen broke the tie when he picked up a loose puck in the crease, Jets forward Zach Sandford was dinged with a four-minute double minor for high-sticking at 13:16.
Gagner put his 11th goal of the season into an empty net at 19:23.
Detroit hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.