By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Rick Bowness wasn’t impressed with the way the Winnipeg Jets started Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it was the ending that counted for the coach.
Nikolaj Ehlers scored a late third-period goal to help the Jets seal a 4-2 victory over the Lightning that gave them a third consecutive win and extended their point streak to nine games (7-0-2).
The streak ties a franchise record set in December 2005 by the Atlanta Thrashers.
“Tonight wasn’t a Picasso by any stretch early in the game,” Bowness said. “But when we got our legs going and started to play Winnipeg Jet hockey, when we get committed to that, there’s not a team in this league we can’t beat.”
Neal Pionk, Alex Iafallo and Morgan Barron, with an empty-netter and an assist, also scored for the Jets (23-9-4) in front of 14,157 fans at Canada Life Centre. Vladislav Namestnikov contributed three assists.
Connor Hellebuyck, who was named the NHL’s third star for the month of December, made 33 saves for Winnipeg to boost his record to 18-6-3 in 27 games.
“We know how to grind these games out now,” Namestnikov said. “It was a close game, but we stuck with it and got the win.”
Nikita Kucherov had a goal and assist and Steven Stamkos also scored for the Lightning (18-16-5), who have lost three of their past four games.
“We trust in what we have and we’ve just got to keep believing, that’s the bottom line,” said Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman, who had 29:14 of ice time.
“Winnipeg has a great record for a reason, and a solid team, well-coached, great goaltending. But I think we stood up pretty good and I felt like we could have gotten points out of this one.”
Andrei Vasilevsky stopped 23 shots for Tampa Bay, which only had five healthy defencemen in the lineup.
“I thought we played a pretty darn road game,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “It was tough to get scored on in the first five minutes of the second (period), but we were doing what we wanted to do and it was tough that we couldn’t get that second (goal).”
The Lightning led 1-0 after the first period, but the Jets went ahead 2-1 after the middle frame.
Stamkos recorded his 16th goal of the season with a one-timer during a power play at 6:18 of the opening period.
Tampa Bay got called for delay of game with 18 seconds remaining in the opening period, but Winnipeg couldn’t capitalize with the extra man.
The Jets soon scored at even strength when Brenden Dillon sent a slap pass to Pionk in front of the net and he redirected the puck past Vasilevsky at 4:44.
“Honestly, we made eye contact in the corner and I said, ‘This might happen’ and I actually got a piece of it and it went in. I couldn’t believe it,” Pionk said.
Iafallo made it 2-1 off a rebound at 9:13.
The Lightning had the man advantage four minutes later, but Hellebuyck turned aside a couple of close-in shots to preserve the lead.
Tampa Bay outshot the Jets 25-15 through two periods.
The Jets got four shots on goal in another power play early in the third, but couldn’t beat Vasilevsky.
Vasilevsky was called for tripping less than a minute later, but Winnipeg didn’t even get a shot on net in the man advantage.
Ehlers shot from a bended knee and beat Vasilevsky at 15:13 and Barron put one into an empty net with 2:07 remaining.
Kucherov scored on the power play with 37 seconds remaining, which extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.
STILL STINGY IN NET
Winnipeg stretched its franchise record for only allowing opponents to score three or fewer goals to 26 games.
The Jets have also held their opponents to three or fewer goals in 32 games this season, which leads the league. Winnipeg is 23-7-2 In those games.
Only three teams in the past decade have been as stingy in at least 25 consecutive games: the Minnesota Wild with a 35-game stretch from Jan. 27 to April 9, 2015, and the Columbus Blue Jackets with 25 from Dec. 16, 2019 to Feb. 10, 2020.
Jets: Begin a three-game road trip Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.
Lightning: Play the second match of a three-game road trip Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.