Captain Blake Wheeler may not have liked the way some Winnipeg Jets fans cheered the team Tuesday, but the end result was motivation in a 7-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Jets didn’t get a shot on goal until 12:26 of the first period. Defenceman Dylan DeMelo’s shot was gloved by Vegas goalie Laurent Brossoit and drew cheers from some in the crowd at Canada Life Centre. Vegas had six shots on net at the time.
Winnipeg then peppered Brossoit with six straight shots in the next three minutes. Wheeler scored at 18:08, followed 33 seconds later by Kyle Connor’s 38th goal of the season that made it 2-0.
Wheeler said during a TV interview at intermission that the “Bronx” cheers ticked off the players.
After the game, he told reporters fans pay good money to watch the team and can express their feelings with boos or cheers.
“I think we’ve been a really good home team and fed off of our crowd over the years,” Wheeler said. “When you hear a little jeer from the crowd when you get first shot, I mean, you know what it’s for. And, like I said, it’s their prerogative. You don’t have to love it.
“But I think tonight they sparked us and got us going. We scored two goals right after that. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but tonight it worked.”
Wheeler also picked up an assist and extended his point streak to five games with two goals and five assists.
Connor is on a five-game goal-scoring streak. He also had a pair of assists. Mark Scheifele, Logan Stanley and Josh Morrissey each had a goal and an assist. Nikolaj Ehlers and Adam Lowry also scored.
“It’s amazing what happens when you have a shooter’s mindset, and you have a skill set that Connor has,” Jets interim coach Dave Lowry said. “He doesn’t pass up opportunities to put the puck at the net. When I say that, he also has an innate ability to make plays.”
Connor Hellebuyck made 35 saves for Winnipeg (28-23-10), which is 6-2-1 in its last nine games.
The Jets entered the game four points behind Vegas for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, with the Golden Knights holding a game in hand on Winnipeg.
The loss took Vegas’s losing skid to a season-high five games.
Nicolas Roy, Alex Pietrangelo and Michael Amadio scored for Vegas (32-26-4), which ended a five-game road trip without any points.
The seven goals was the most the injury-riddled Golden Knights have given up this season.
“We’ve had winnable games,” Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said. “It feels like we’ve got to play a perfect game right now. Our goalies have to be dead on, our special teams have to be dead on, our five-on-five has to be dead on for us to win. That’s a big ask for a group. I thought most nights on this trip, we’ve had most of those things going but just not enough to win.”
Brossoit started in net for Vegas in place of injured Robyn Lehner. The former Jets netminder was replaced by Logan Thompson midway through the second period after letting in four goals on 13 shots. Thompson stopped seven of the 10 shots he faced.
Winnipeg led 2-0 after the first period and 5-1 following the second.
Vegas got on the board at 6:49 of the second period after Roy capitalized on a quick passing play.
A pair of unassisted goals upped Winnipeg’s lead to 4-1. Ehlers scored his 16 at 9:04, and big defenceman Stanley recorded his first of the season at 11:09 when his sharp-angled shot whizzed behind Brossoit, who was then pulled in favour of Thompson.
“Just didn’t get in front of enough pucks,” DeBoer said of the switch. “It’s pretty simple. I’m not a goaltending expert, but you’ve got to get in front of a couple.”
Thompson stood tall during the game’s first power play, but eight seconds after it was over Scheifele notched his 23rd goal at 18:25 to make it 5-1.
Pietrangelo used his team’s first power play of the game to beat Hellebuyck at 4:34 of the third, and Amadio squeezed the score 5-3 five minutes later.
Winnipeg responded with Morrissey’s goal at 10:33. Lowry scored short-handed three minutes later.
“I’m proud that we didn’t just quit playing,” Vegas forward William Karlsson said. “We gave it a try. We managed to score two goals and make it a little bit of a game.”
Vegas hosts the Florida Panthers on Thursday. The Jets are home to the Boston Bruins on Friday.