WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Nikolaj Ehlers is feeling more and more comfortable with his new linemates.
Ehlers had a goal and two assists to lead the Winnipeg Jets over the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 on Monday night in a matchup critical to the crowded Western Conference playoff race.
“We’ve been able to create some good chemistry,” said Ehlers, who has been skating with center Cody Eakin and winger Patrik Laine. “We still have some things we need to clean up. But it’s nice to see that it’s going the right way and we’re making plays. It feels good.”
Eakin broke a 2-all tie for the Jets at 11:33 of the third period when he picked up the puck and backhanded a shot past Arizona netminder Darcy Kuemper. It was Eakin’s first goal since being acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 21. Ehlers and Laine assisted.
Mark Scheifele added an empty-netter, and defenseman Tucker Poolman had a goal and an assist for Winnipeg. Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves as the Jets moved into the top wild-card spot in the West with 78 points, four more than the Coyotes.
“That’s a big game by us,” Eakin said. “Being down two to start — they’re a hungry team. We ended up stopping the bleeding there and finishing it off the right way.”
Arizona is now in chase mode for a playoff berth.
“We’ve got no choice,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “We’ve got to pick it up again. We need some more guys to feel the whip and go at it. There’s no other choice. Obviously, the next games get bigger and bigger, and we’ve got to rise to the challenge.”
Nick Schmaltz scored both goals for the Coyotes, who squandered a 2-0 lead. Kuemper stopped 30 shots.
"They come hard here at home,” Schmaltz said. “They have a lot of skilled players and we didn't close out enough guys. We gave them a little bit too much time and space, and when you do that against high-end players, they're going to make you pay. It's obviously a frustrating loss. Those are big points."
It was the last of a three-game homestand for the Jets, who have won six straight at home to improve to 20-14-3 at Bell MTS Place.
“We wanted to finish off this home stretch the right way,” Ehlers said. “That first period, we created a bunch of good stuff. Then, the second period we came out the right way. The first shift that we had, we were in their zone for 1:30 or whatever. So, we came out the right way and we were able to continue that for the next 40 minutes and get those two points. We feel good. We’re happy with where we’re at. But we’ve still got a couple other levels to get to.”
Ehlers pulled the Jets to 2-1 early in the second period when he took a stretch pass from Poolman at the blue line, sped around the defenders and beat Kuemper with a soft knuckler. Poolman knotted the score late in the period when he pounced on Eakin’s rebound, with Ehlers also assisting.
The Coyotes jumped out to a 2-0 lead late in the first. With just 1.2 seconds on the clock, Schmaltz pounced on Phil Kessel’s rebound and beat Hellebuyck for his second goal of the game.
After taking a pass from Kessel, Schmaltz opened the scoring when he skated around Neil Pionk and beat Hellebuyck with a high shot at the 15:50 mark of the first.
NOTES: Jets coach Paul Maurice passed Ken Hitchcock (1,598) to move into sole possession of fifth place in career games as an NHL head coach. ... Jets center Adam Lowry returned after missing 20 games with an upper-body injury. He fought Lawson Crouse on his first shift.
Coyotes: Host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.
Jets: Embark on a three-game road trip through Western Canada, with the first game in Edmonton on Wednesday.