Poulin: Despite numbers, Jets match up well with Lightning
Winnipeg right winger Blake Wheeler had the game of his career on Sunday in Columbus, and it's that kind of performance the Jets need over the final 17 games of the regular season to position themselves for the playoffs.
The Jets (39-22-4, 82 points) make the second stop of their four-game road trip in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Wheeler and his teammates beat the Lightning 5-4 in overtime in Winnipeg in their previous meeting on Dec. 16.
Viewers in the Jets region can watch tonight's game LIVE on TSN3 at 6pm ct.
Wheeler recorded four goals in Winnipeg's 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets, scoring three straight times in the third period to break a 2-2 tie. The final goal was an empty-netter, as the Jets won for the third time in five games.
The banner night for Winnipeg's captain helped the Jets maintain the stop spot in the Central Division as they battle with the Nashville Predators, but it was also an individual performance that was noteworthy on its own.
The four-goal outing was the first for the 32-year-old Wheeler in his 11-plus year career, and it marked the seventh time this season a Winnipeg player has recorded a hat trick, which tops the NHL.
Wheeler, named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday, became the fifth Jets/Thrashers player to record at least four goals in a contest in franchise history, joining Mathieu Perreault, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pascal Rheaume, plus linemate Patrik Laine.
Laine scored five times in an 8-4 win over the Blues in St. Louis on Nov. 24.
"You want to contribute, that's the biggest thing," said Wheeler, whose last hat trick was on Oct. 29, 2017. "That's the goal of our line 1/8Laine-Mark Scheifele-Wheeler 3/8 every night, to contribute in some fashion,
"The score sheet is part of our job, but we kind of pride ourselves on the little details of the game. That's the rewarding part, trying to make an impact."
The Lightning (50-12-4, 104 points), who boast the league's No. 1 offence, have top-end scoring in bunches, with three forwards already over 30 goals: Brayden Point (36), Steven Stamkos (33) and Nikita Kucherov (31).
However, only one of that elite trio -- NHL top scorer Kucherov, who also recorded his league-best 75th assist -- tallied in the club's last game, a 5-1 victory over the visiting Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
Defencemen Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev all netted goals as Tampa Bay won for the 11th time in its last 12 games. The team also has earned points in 15 of its last 16.
Saturday's win by Tampa Bay tied the league record for fewest games by a club to post 50 wins, equaling the previous low of 66 matches set by the Detroit Red Wings during the 1995-96 season.
In addition to four Lightning blueliners collecting goals, all six appeared on the score sheet with either a goal or an assist for just the third time in team history.
"It's a good sign, first and foremost, that we're not spending a lot of time in our zone," McDonagh said. We're fresh within our shift. We talked about our transition game and relieving pressure in the offensive zone.
"We got to get involved and get up in the play."