ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Mark Scheifele scored his 42nd goal, Connor Hellebuyck made 33 saves and the Winnipeg Jets clinched the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.
Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton also scored goals in Hellebuyck’s 13th consecutive start for the Jets, who won for the fifth time in six games to secure the second wild card and eliminate Nashville.
Kirill Kaprizov had a power-play goal early in the third period for the Wild, who lost for the first time in four games this season to the rival Jets and had their long-shot chance to win the Central Division end.
Colorado entered the day with 104 points, before hosting Edmonton on Tuesday night, and Dallas has 104 points. Minnesota has 102 points. The Avalanche and Stars still have two more games left this week, and the Wild only have one. The Stars hold the tiebreaker over the Wild on regulation wins.
Lowry gave the Jets the lead with just 3:53 elapsed when he knocked in a carom off a blocked shot of Nino Neiderreiter’s for his second goal in as many games. Scheifele also scored on a rebound off Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, when teammates Jonas Brodin and Connor Dewar weren’t able to track the puck in time to keep Scheifele away from it.
The action was edgy and rough enough to be a playoff game, as Jets fourth-liner Saku Maenalanen frequently harassed Kaprizov. Maenalanen drew a high stick penalty on Kaprizov that gave the Wild a 5-on-3 power play, but it bridged the first intermission and momentum was lost after the long break.
The Wild had a 13-4 advantage in shots on goal in the first period and never let up from there, left wondering what they had to do to get a puck past Hellebuyck.
Dewar’s snap shot off a rebound in front of a wide-open net hit the post early in the third period. Lowry hooked him to give the Wild another power play when Kaprizov finally converted, a few seconds after he hit the post twice from point-blank range.
The game really got ugly down the stretch. Ryan Hartman leveled Nikolaj Ehlers with an open-ice, shoulder-to-shoulder hit after Ehlers went after Kaprizov, and Hartman drew a double minor for roughing and interference. Wild fans jeered the officials with derogatory chants about the calls they disagreed with, finally cheering when Neal Pionk drew a five-minute penalty for cross-checking. Lowry and Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves with 25 seconds left for good measure.
Kaprizov suffered a scary lower-body injury against the Jets in Winnipeg on March 8, when he was hit hard and awkwardly from behind by 6-foot-7 defenseman Logan Stanley and missed the next 13 games. Stanley was a healthy scratch this time, with the Jets using the same lineup that fueled a 6-2 win over San Jose on Monday to finish 4-1 on a five-game homestand.
The Jets, who reached the Western Conference finals five years ago after beating the Wild in the first round and the Predators in the second round before a a slow fade that precipitated the firing of coach Paul Maurice in the middle of last season, missed the playoffs in 2022.
SCHEIF GOAL SCORER
Scheifele scored for the third straight game to move into a tie for ninth in the NHL in goals. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 37 career games against the Wild.
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba was named the team’s inaugural recipient of the Tom Kurvers Humanitarian Award, created in honor of their late assistant general manager. Dumba has long worked on anti-racism and inclusivity initiatives within the sport.
Jets: Play at Colorado on Thursday night. Winnipeg will face the No. 1 overall seed in the first round starting next week. Vegas, Edmonton, Colorado and Dallas are still alive for the top spot.
Wild: Play at Nashville on Thursday night. Minnesota will either play Colorado or Dallas in the first round, with home-ice advantage a long shot.