Wheeler lifts Jets to 3-2 shootout win over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Blake Wheeler had a goal in regulation and scored the shootout winner, Connor Hellebuyck made 35 saves and the Winnipeg Jets rallied to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Wednesday night for their third consecutive victory.
Mason Appleton had the tying goal in regulation and the Jets got shootout goals from Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele to win their fifth in six games as they push for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The shootout victory followed two straight in overtime.
“We just need wins,” Dubois said. “It doesn’t matter how. I think we all agree that we can play better. We have to play better. But at the end of the day, we get the two points. And that’s what we need right now.”
Winnipeg opened a back-to-back road trip without leading scorer Kyle Connor and defenseman Nate Schmidt, after both were placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 list earlier Wednesday. Every player on the Jets’ roster has missed time because of virus protocols this season.
“That’s kind of been the story of our year, in terms of COVID and how it has affected our team,” Wheeler said. “Never easy to lose two guys, especially two guys of that caliber. So it was definitely a good night for guys to step up.”
Wheeler’s deciding goal in the shootout was the sixth of his career.
“I don’t really plan it before I go,” he said. “Just see where the goalie is at, feel him out a little bit.”
Zemgus Girgensons scored twice and Kyle Okposo had two assists for the Sabres, who have a point in seven straight games, their longest streak over the past three seasons.
“We generated a lot of chances,” Girgensons said. “Sometimes goalies make big stops. Especially in OT there, we had a golden opportunity and the goalie just came up big for them.”
Hellebuyck stopped six shots in overtime while the Jets killed a two-minute slashing penalty on Dubois, who had hit the post in the opening seconds of OT. Hellebuyck made one save in the shootout.
“I felt that Hellebuyck was very good for them,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We could’ve had some separation. There wasn’t, and credit to him.”
The Jets tied it twice in the second period on goals by Wheeler and Appleton.
Wheeler tapped in his 11th at 4:13 of the second after Dubois faked Anderson off his skates and slid a backhand to the front of the net.
Nikolaj Ehlers’ cross-ice pass on the rush set up Appleton in the right circle with 21 seconds left in the period. It was the seventh goal of the season for Appleton, and his first in five games since being reacquired in a trade with the Seattle Kraken, who selected him off the Jets’ roster in the July expansion draft.
Craig Anderson made 25 saves for the Sabres.
Girgensons gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead 8:24 into the second, knocking in the rebound from Henri Jokiharju’s shot for his 10th goal.
The Sabres had a 13-5 advantage in shots on goal in the first and went ahead on Girgensons’ goal with 5:21 remaining in the period. After getting his shot blocked by Scheifele, Girgensons pounced on the loose puck in the high slot and snapped it past Hellebuyck.
The Jets didn’t record a shot until midway through the first period but nearly scored soon after when Appleton deflected one off the post.
“That’s usually not the winning formula,” Hellebuyck said. “But this team’s resilient, and we found a way.”
Jets: Connor and Schmidt will miss at least two more games and remain in the U.S. through the weekend after testing positive Wednesday in Buffalo. The NHL suspended testing for asymptomatic players in late January, but the Jets were required to screen before flying into Canada following the game. Connor ranks fifth in the NHL with 41 goals, and Schmidt’s 31 points are the most among Winnipeg defensemen.
Sabres: Rookie D Mattias Samuelsson was scratched with an undisclosed injury and is day-to-day. ... D John Hayden resumed skating with the team Wednesday before missing his fifth game since entering the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
Jets: At Toronto on Thursday.
Sabres: Host Nashville on Friday after banner-raising ceremony for broadcaster Rick Jeanneret, who is retiring at the end of his 51st season.
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