Lightning finish road trip against streaking Jets

Lightning finish road trip against streaking Jets

The Winnipeg Jets have had plenty of success in a season in which they’re in the playoffs, but they have yet to prove themselves against the best in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

Winnipeg is currently second in the Central Division and will host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Friday night’s first meeting between the two standout clubs.

After a three-game slip with a three-game winning streak, the Jets will play their fourth home game in a row of five of six at home ice in Manitoba.

They are 3-1-0 in the first three home games of the set and lose 4-1 to the Minnesota Wild two days after Christmas.

Ever since that setback, all has been right in Winnipeg’s world. Despite losing three in a row, coach Rick Bowness’s group is 6-4-0 in their last 10 games, but they’ve struggled with opposition in the East.

The Jets have won just five of eleven matchups (5-6-0) against the other conference. In five games against the Atlantic Division they are 3-2-0.

On Tuesday, Winnipeg watched as fourth-row right wing Sam Gagner broke a 2-2 tie with the Calgary Flames by deflecting in the game-winning tally with 5-40 left.

According to Bowness, three players who have struggled with injuries all season – forwards Cole Perfetti and Nikolaj Ehlers, and defenseman Nate Schmidt – are expected to return to the Jets’ lineup.

The speedy Ehlers played in the first two games of the season but has not appeared in a game since Oct. 17. Schmidt has missed nine games while Perfetti has missed five.

“If this was a playoff game,[the three]would probably play,” Bowness said ahead of the 3-2 win over the Flames. “That gives us a few extra days and a practice session on Thursday.”

The Jets are 16-5-1 when they score the first goal and 10-4-1 in one-goal contests. They are 7-1 in eight overtime games.

Playing in the second matchup on his three-game road trip, Tampa Bay had tarnished his perfect record against the Central Division in a 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild. The club have gone 1-1-0 through two games against the division and lost for the first time in five games overall.

Minnesota defeated the Lightning by turning a 1-0 game into a 3-0 game after 20 minutes in the first 9:27 of the second period.

“It was a pretty even game, then they get the two of them, bang, bang,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t kill (the Savages’ power play). A couple of their goals… they’ve had some breaks. Everything went well for her tonight.

“Kind of a perfect storm – we’re coming from a back-to-back. It’s our fifth game in eight nights and they’ve been resting here. They only played two games in one week. No complaint, every team happens. But they took advantage of a situation that went in their favor.”

Vezina Trophy goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy – 16-9-1 so far – was due to start the second game of the consecutive set but he did not play for a second straight night due to illness. Backup Brian Elliott gave up four goals in 32 shots.

With the loss, Tampa Bay slipped to 9-8-0 away.

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