For the first 45 minutes Thursday, it was everything the Carolina Hurricanes wanted.
Playing their season-opener on the road, against the Winnipeg Jets at a noisy MTS Centre, the Canes led 4-1 in the third period after a power-play goal by Victor Rask. Goalie Cam Ward was solid in net, the Canes were killing off penalties and seemingly on their way to a strong opening victory.
That was not to be. Blake Wheeler’s shorthanded goal for the Jets gave the game a 180-degree turn, Winnipeg rallied to tie the score 4-4, then won 5-4 on Mark Scheifele’s goal at 2:41 of overtime.
It all unraveled so quickly that the Canes couldn’t stop it, the Jets energized and the crowd of 15,296 getting louder by the minute.
Patrik Laine, the second overall pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, rifled a shot past Ward on a power play. Then, with 1:29 left in regulation and the Jets net empty, Mathieu Perreault scored to tie it and the building was shaking.
Wheeler, named the Jets captain this year, not only had the biggest goal of the game but also assisted on the final two, making a perfect pass to Scheifele off the rush to win it.
Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak each had a goal and assist for the Canes, whose early season schedule is packed with six straight road games. Jordan Staal scored late in the second period and then Rask in the third.
After Rask’s score, the Canes soon went back on the power play. But a sloppy pass allowed Wheeler to grab a loose puck and skate in to beat Ward.
“That’s definitely not a good pass, a bad play by me,” Skinner said. “It was a pretty big momentum change.”
Jets coach Paul Maurice used another word to describe Wheeler’s goal.
“Huge,” he said. “To come back down 4-1 with 15 minutes left on the clock. ... If this was an old, veteran team we’d be talking about their resilience and their know-how and their character and their grit and they never quit. So let’s just apply those to a really young team and be happy with the way they battled back."
The Canes trailed 1-0 in the first after the Jets’ Shawn Matthias whipped in a tight-angle shot from the corner that beat Ward. Winnipeg then had 1:49 of a 5-on-3 power play, but the Canes killed off both penalties and Skinner scored soon after to tie it.
“After killing off the 5-on-3, I thought we really took the play to them,” Stempniak said.
Stempniak, playing his first game for the Canes, scored on the power play in the second period, and Staal grabbed a loose puck and beat goalie Connor Hellebuyck on a quick-wrister late in the period for a 3-1 lead.
“I thought we were good,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “We limited the shots and scoring chances through 40 (minutes).”
But Wheeler’s hustle and then Laine’s first NHL goal in his debut — “A perfect shot and perfect screen (on Ward),” Maurice said — got the Jets back in it.
Canes forward Sebastian Aho, once Laine’s teammate and linemate on Finnish national teams, also made his NHL debut. Aho earned his first NHL point with an assist on Rask’s goal, but had an open look from the right wing with seconds left in regulation and was wide of the net.
Aho was upset with himself after the miss. He had a lot of company on the Canes’ side when Scheifele scored in overtime.
The Canes flew out after the game to Vancouver, where they’ll face the Canucks on Sunday.
“Teams that are in the playoffs at the end of the year don’t let these points slip away,” Stempniak said. “I think to a man everyone knows it’s not acceptable to lose a game this way, especially a season-opener that could put you in a good spot on a long road trip.”