WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — After helping Winnipeg move into first place in the Western Conference, Blake Wheeler predicted the best is yet to come for the Jets.
“I don’t think we’ve peaked,” Wheeler said after having three assists in Winnipeg’s 7-4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night. “We have a ways to go. We’re learning how to play fast, kind of on the fly. I think we can play faster.
With the way the league’s going, that’s an exciting thing.
“There’s no back-slapping. I think we’re enjoying winning, which is new to our group, but we’re not fitting ourselves for rings, yet.”
Kyle Connor scored twice, and Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine each had a goal and two assists in the Jets’ five-goal third period. Tyler Myers, Matt Hendricks, and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg with won its fifth straight at home. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 27 shots.
Winnipeg-born forward Cody Eakin, William Karlsson, Erik Haula and Colin Miller scored for the Golden Knights. Maxime Lagace stopped 31 shots as Vegas lost its third straight for only the second time this season.
The teams were tied 2-2 heading into the third when Connor and Laine scored power-play play goals 2:15 apart to put the Jets ahead.
“The big one was that early third-period goal to make them go up 3-2 and then we took a penalty right after that and they scored again, so that was the turning point in the game for me,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said.
Winnipeg was 3-for-5 on the power play and Vegas was scoreless on five attempts.
“We just need to stay out of the box a little more, that was it,” Golden Knights forward James Neal said. “Power plays can win you the game. They thrive on theirs.”
Ehlers made it 5-2 at 6:16, but Haula scored 19 seconds later. Scheifele extended the Jets’ lead to 6-3 with 5:07 remaining and Miller scored less than 90 seconds later. Connor’s second of the game, into an empty net, capped the scoring with 1:08 to go.
Myers gave Winnipeg the 1-0 lead at 4:49 of the first. With 28 seconds left on Eakin’s hooking penalty, Myers fired a one-timer from the point through traffic and the puck appeared to tick off someone to beat Legace.
Eakin made up for it with 7:09 left in the opening period when he batted the puck out of the air past Hellebuyck.
Vegas went ahead after Nate Schmidt’s shot was tipped into the net by Karlsson for his 14th with 3:11 remaining in the first.
Miller had a power-play goal wiped out midway through the second after Jets coach Paul Maurice was successful in challenging a Vegas offside.
Gallant said it was the correct call, but disappointing.
“We would have loved to have that 3-1 lead, obviously, but you’ve got to keep playing, you’ve got to keep battling back,” Gallant said.
Hendricks left the ice briefly after Miller’s skate blade caught him in the face when they got tangled up along the boards, but he returned to tie the game with a high shot over Lagace’s right shoulder with 6:39 remaining in the middle period.
NOTES: The Jets are 8-0-1 in their last nine at home. … Vegas has now been outscored 36-27 in the third period this season. … The Golden Knights won the teams’ first meeting, 5-2 at home on Nov. 10. The teams conclude the three-game season series Feb. 1 back here in Winnipeg.
Golden Knights: Host Arizona on Sunday.
Jets: Host Ottawa on Sunday.