The Winnipeg Jets hold a wild-card spot and a berth in the postseason in the Western Conference’s current standings, but there is very little margin of error for coach Paul Maurice’s club.
The Jets will make their third stop during a four-game road trip on Sunday afternoon when they visit the Buffalo Sabres in the teams’ first of two meetings this season.
Maurice’s group opened the trip in Ottawa Thursday night, and they turned to forward Mark Scheifele to help lift them into a playoff spot. Winnipeg leapfrogged the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes in the standings behind Scheifele’s third career hat trick — all on the power play — in a 5-1 win over the Senators.
“We’re not talking about a player that wasn’t contributing or wasn’t all around it. He has been,” Maurice said of Scheifele, who has 26 goals this season. “You want (the hat trick) for him. Glad that he got three. He’s had a lot of chances he hasn’t converted on.”
A two-time 30-goal scorer during his eight-plus years in Winnipeg, the 26-year-old Scheifele had not scored a goal since Jan. 19 in Chicago against the Blackhawks. The Ontario native notched just his second multi-goal performance this season — he scored twice, including the game-winner — against the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 8.
On Friday, the Jets acquired forward Cody Eakin from the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2021 conditional fourth-round pick to bolster their bottom six. The 28-year-old Winnipeg native has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 41 games.
While Scheifele and the Jets cruised past Ottawa on Thursday, the Sabres dropped a 7-4 decision to the Senators on Tuesday night in Canada’s capital. Defenseman Brandon Montour notched the game’s first two goals, but it was all Ottawa from there — including the Senators scoring four times in a span of 3:29 to take a 4-2 lead into the dressing room during the first intermission.
The two teams were both in action Saturday with matinee games in the Keystone State before Sunday’s contest in Buffalo — with very different results.
The Sabres traveled to Pittsburgh and jumped on the Penguins in the first period, getting goals from Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart and captain Jack Eichel. Jeff Skinner also tallied and Eichel added his 35th goal in the third to clinch the 5-2 win.
Eichel became the sixth different Buffalo player in the last 40 years to score 35 goals in 60 games or fewer.
“Everyone contributed today,” Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger said. “It was an excellent reaction. (Pittsburgh) never stops coming at you. It was a really good team effort.”
Goalie Carter Hutton, who allowed six Senators goals on 39 shots in Ottawa, rebounded with a 41-save performance. Reinhart added an assist for a two-point performance and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen contributed a pair of helpers.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg visited eastern Pennsylvania and couldn’t overcome a two-goal deficit in the first period, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Josh Morrissey and Patrik Laine found the net for the Jets, and goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 26 saves in the defeat. The loss denied Winnipeg its first four-game winning streak this season.
–Field Level Media