Hellebuyck wills Jets to victory with 50-save, virtuoso performance vs. Rangers

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NEW YORK – There are formulas, numbers and plenty of other important evidence that suggest it’s a bad idea – under most circumstances – for the starting goalie to start on consecutive days.

A growing number of coaches are leaning on that data and leaning on the backup more often, but this was one of those nights when the Winnipeg Jets felt it was best to ride the No. 1 guy.

First and foremost, Connor Hellebuyck didn’t have an overly taxing night on Sunday against the New Jersey Devils and secondly, the commute from Newark, New Jersey to Manhattan is pretty easy compared to most other situations when a flight is involved.

When you consider the Jets had lost consecutive games and needed a lift, it was no surprise that head coach Rick Bowness decided to go with No. 37 between the pipes in Monday’s game against the New York Rangers.

Hellebuyck did his part with a virtuoso performance, finishing with a season-high 50 saves as he essentially willed the Jets to a 4-1 victory.

“I understand it’s a long season and you have to use everyone and you want your back-up goaltender in a rhythm,” said Hellebuyck, who improved to 26-16-1. “I always feel better in the second half, and I had some rest, so it was a perfect storm.”

Hellebuyck was big and boring throughout the contest, making several key saves early to help the Jets jump out to a lead.

By the time the final buzzer had sounded, Hellebuyck had also turned aside 29 of the 30 shots he faced from the slot (and 19 high-danger chances, according to NaturalStatTrick as the Jets handed the Rangers their first regulation loss in the past 11 games (8-1-2).

“He was incredible,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey. “They’ve got a really potent offence and a lot of high end skill. They’re aggressive offensively. He was unbelievable and looked so solid in there. I didn’t think anything was going to beat him clean.

“It was impressive. Everything was sticking to him. I thought we did a good job battling in front to let him see the puck. When he sees it, he’s going to stop it. That’s a pretty special performance. He was insane tonight, like he’s been all year.”

When Hellebuyck is locked in the way he was on Monday, he looks like the kind of guy that can put a team on his back – though that’s not something the Jets want to rely on.

“He makes tough saves look easy,” said Dubois. “Sometimes, when you’re in the stands, you’re looking like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t that great of a great of a shot or that wasn’t that great of a pass or whatever.’ And it was. He just reads them so well that it was an easy save.

“He doesn’t have to reach out and make a spectacular save, it’s just a routine save for him. He was great for us tonight. I mean, great could be an understatement. It is an understatement. A lot of goalies in this league would have been behind a lot. It gives us a lot of confidence to have him back there for us.”

The Jets improved to 35-21-1 on the season and pulled within one point of the Dallas Stars in the chase for top spot in the Central Division and moved six points up on the Colorado Avalanche.

As for the Jets offence, you can call this an opportunistic output, as Mark Scheifele (two goals), Kyle Connor (one goal, two assists) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (one power-play goal) took care of the scoring.

“They came through when we needed them most. They certainly did,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “We talked about it earlier today. We had to crank up our intensity. We had to start working a lot harder. The guys responded.”

Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey made his way into the record books by assisting on the power play marker for Dubois, which gave him 57 points in 57 games to move past Dustin Byfuglien for the franchise mark for single-season points by a defenceman.

“It means a lot. It’s something that you’re kind of aware of the last couple weeks,” said Morrissey. “I’m more worried about how we’re doing as a team and how we’re playing. But when you remove that and look at it, especially considering the relationship I had with Buff and him being my first partner when I came into the league.

“I credit a lot of the confidence I had early in my career to playing with (Byfuglien) and his attitude. It definitely means a lot to me and it’s a function of opportunity and us having a great team and great players that make my job easy. Just have to get them the puck and good things happen.”

Morrissey chuckled when asked about being given an assist on two prior occasions that were eventually changed by the official scorers – first on Wednesday in the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and then again on Sunday against the Devils.

“Yeah, I mean once the one went in, I was kind of like ‘is there any way that was offside or goalie interference or whatever.’ You never know,” said Morrissey. “Both times, it got announced but I knew it wasn’t a true point. Most importantly, just trying to win hockey games and get back on the winning side of things.”

Prior to the game, Bowness announced that Cole Perfetti had suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury and he was intentionally vague when asked for specifics about the nature of the ailment the forward is dealing with – or how long it could keep him sidelined.

Whether it was a question about whether or not the injury was related to the one that kept him out previously – either earlier this season or last – Bowness wasn’t willing to provide any clues, nor did he weigh in about what the timeline might be or even if Perfetti could be an option to play on Wednesday when the Jets face the New York Islanders to wrap up this four-game road trip.

“It’s going to be reassessed,” Bowness said on multiple occasions.

Before the conspiracy theorists get worked up, the Jets were not holding Perfetti out for trade-related reasons, despite the rumour mill suggesting the Jets 2020 first-rounder could be part of the asking price in the Timo Meier sweepstakes.

This is not a Jakob Chychrun or Vladislav Gavrikov situation.

Perfetti was involved in a collision with Devils defenceman Damon Severson and while it’s unclear if that play led to the latest injury, this is not a cover-up or an organization looking to protect an asset.

If Perfetti was medically available, he would be in the lineup.

Just because a young player or prospect might be on the wish list of another team, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be moved.

Sam Gagner jumped back into the lineup for Perfetti and Bowness made another change on defence, inserting Logan Stanley for Dylan Samberg, who had put together a nice stretch of hockey lately and didn’t necessarily deserve to be scratched.

While the Jets were quick to point out that they’ll need to play much better to have success during the final 25 games, finding a way to get the job done against one of the hottest teams in the NHL was the most important development on this night.

“At this point, we’re just taking wins any way they come,” said Hellebuyck. “We did a lot of good things. We brought some energy and definitely kept them to the outside. Controlled rebounds. There were good blocked shots, a good PK, power-play goal. So there was a lot of good stuff. I know the shots were lopsided, but it’s a good team game.”

And it’s a game the Jets are going to have to build on, though not completely satisfied with.

“At this point of the year, results matter more than anything else,” said Dubois. “But we’re also trying to build our game so we don’t have to turn a switch when the end of the year comes and the playoffs start.”

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