| March 14, 2022, 1:58 AM
ST. LOUIS — By his own admission, Mark Schieifele didn’t even see the hit that knocked Andrew Copp out of the game, but that didn’t prevent him from going over to the St. Louis Blues bench to give them a piece of his mind.
The Winnipeg Jets centre wasn’t interested in getting into the specifics of what he shared in the verbal exchange, though it was clear he was both frustrated and concerned to see his close friend and former roommate get knocked out of the game by a neutral zone hit from Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist just 3:30 into the third period.
The hit from Sundqvist wasn’t necessarily predatory in its nature, but it appeared to be high and it came from the blindside as well, although it went unpenalized.
Copp recently missed six games with what was the fourth concussion of his career — which came on a high blindside hit from Minnesota Wild forward Jordan Greenway.
Fortunately, Copp got up under his own power after he was knocked to the ice on Sunday, but he was irate as he departed, tossing his helmet as he made his way down the tunnel to the Jets’ dressing room.
“I saw a guy on my team get hit and he was down. So, I think that’s kind of the way things go in this league,” said Scheifele, who scored his 22nd goal of the season in the third period to help the Jets earn a 4-3 overtime victory and improve to 27-23-10 overall. “I didn’t see it, so I had no idea if it was dirty or clean or what it was. But someone has got to go over there and say something.”
Jets captain Blake Wheeler downplayed the theory the Jets may have used the hit as a rallying point, though the Jets struck twice in 63 seconds just a few minutes after the play in question.
“There wasn’t any talk of that being a galvanizing moment on the bench. We were concerned for our teammate,” said Wheeler. “That’s my point. We were concerned, for sure. Those are the instances in the game where it’s pretty sobering. He’s a young guy, and it’s bigger than the game at that point. You’re just concerned for him. Hopefully, he’s feeling OK.”
Copp’s health is the primary concern for everyone at this point.
Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry didn’t have an update on the status of Copp, saying they would have a better idea once he was looked at by team doctors after returning home.
The Jets are not expected to skate until Tuesday, so an update is likely not coming until after the morning skate.
“I think any time you have a player with (concussion) history, you’re going to have to be extremely cognizant and be safe with him and that was the decision,” said Lowry. “I saw two players colliding in the neutral zone. It becomes a puck battle, right? Two guys colliding. I thought it looked high, but things happen quick. They felt it wasn’t a penalty to be called.”
There has been plenty of speculation about whether or not Copp would be on the move prior to the NHL trade deadline next Monday, but that talk will be on the back burner until the diagnosis is made by the medical staff.
Sunday was the sixth game back for Nikolaj Ehlers, and thanks to an early slashing minor and subsequent 10-minute misconduct handed out to Evgeny Svechnikov, the dynamic Danish forward found himself bumped back up on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor.
To say the trio had an impact on the outcome would be a massive understatement.
Ehlers cranked up his speed game and found himself on a second two-on-zero rush in as many games, this time converting a pass from Dubois for his 15th goal of the season.
Connor buried the go-ahead goal in the third period, which was his team-leading 37th.
Then he started the play in overtime that led to Ehlers finding Dubois for the game-winner.
There’s been plenty of chatter and debate about the Jets trying to balance out three lines and having at least one driver on each of them.
But when the opportunity to have Ehlers move up presented itself, things clicked almost immediately.
The evidence is compelling enough to keep the trio together, at least in the short term and quite possibly longer.
The overtime goal came as a result of the Jets reverting to last season’s strategy, where they routinely deployed three forwards together and went on the offensive.
The bold move worked once again as the Jets won for just the fourth time in 14 games that went beyond regulation.
“It’s three guys out there that only have one thing in mind, and that’s scoring a goal,” said Dubois, who is up to 24 goals on the campaign. “For the other team, it’s a tough decision to make on who you want to send out there. I think in overtime it’s a matter of time before somebody scores a goal. I say it’s a tough decision to make, because you don’t really want to send just three guys to defend, you want to win, too. But it’s a tough decision, and I think it can lead to good things like (on Sunday).”
The Jets got a solid performance from goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who made 28 saves and snapped a string of six consecutive starts of allowing four goals or more.
One of his best saves of the contest was on Blues winger David Perron, who rifled a shot that whistled off the left shoulder of Hellebuyck.
Earlier in the game, Perron actually tapped Hellebuyck on the back of the pants when he robbed him by making a save with the handle of his goal stick.
“I will tell you what, (Hellebuyck) gave us a chance to win, like he does every night,” said Lowry. “He made some big saves early. He kept us in the hockey game. He allowed us an opportunity to settle in and get into a rhythm.”
The Jets closed out the season series with the Blues with a record of 3-0-1 (the lone defeat coming in a shootout), securing seven out of a possible eight points against a Central Division rival that is solidly above the playoff line and currently occupies second place.
In a season where the Jets have struggled to put together lengthy winning streaks or extended periods of consistent play, they’ve played some of their best hockey against the Blues.
“I don’t think it’s a special recipe we’ve got for them,” Dubois reasoned.
That may be the case, but now the Jets will be looking to try and carry that over against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night.
Despite the up and down play, the Jets are now 5-2-1 over the past eight games and pulled within four points of the Golden Knights (the Jets also hold a game in hand) in the chase for the second wild card berth in the Western Conference.
With two head-to-head meetings coming over an eight-day span, this is the latest in a long line of opportunities to narrow the gap in the standings.
A split of those contests is unlikely to be good enough, since the Jets have only 22 games remaining in the regular season and the margin for error remains razor thin.
“A lot of these games to the end of the year, we have to win them,” said Dubois. “Whether it’s them or anybody else, we can’t lose too many games.”