Jeff Skinner had a pained look Thursday night, his face flushed after a postgame workout that seemingly did little to expunge his frustration.
Skinner and the Carolina Hurricanes played well much of the season-opener against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. He scored the Canes’ first goal of the season, assisted on a Lee Stempniak goal and was on the move and active in the offensive zone, getting five shots on net.
But one error in judgment, one mental lapse, proved pivotal – for Skinner, for the Canes. For the Jets.
The Canes led 4-1 in the third period after a power-play goal by Victor Rask and went back on the power play as the Jets’ Ben Chiarot was called for slashing Jordan Staal on Rask’s scoring play at 5:02 of the third.
At 5:11 of the third, it was a new game.
Skinner, pressured in the neutral zone by Mark Scheifele, made a weak drop pass to defenseman Noah Hanifin in the Canes zone but never saw the Jets’ Blake Wheeler shooting a gap. Wheeler grabbed the puck, skated past Hanifin and quickly powered in a shot against goalie Cam Ward.
Just like that, the MTS Centre was very loud and the Jets very much alive.
“We started just getting a little bit quicker on the puck,” Wheeler said. “You know when the momentum changes like that in this league, it’s tough to stop it.”
The Canes couldn’t stop it. Patrik Laine scored on the power play and then Mathieu Perreault tied it 4-4 after the Jets pulled goalie Connor Hellebuyck for a sixth attacker.
The Canes challenged Perreault’s goal, claiming goaltender interference, but the ruling was a good goal. The Jets won in overtime 5-4 as Scheifele connected off the rush after a pass from Wheeler.
In retrospect, Skinner’s turnover was big. But so was a penalty at 11:43 of the third against the Canes’ Joakim Nordstrom, who was called for hooking Wheeler.
Late in the Jets’ power play, Laine got off a bomb of a shot from the left circle that Ward, screened by Drew Stafford, never saw.
While a goal by anyone at that point in the game would have had MTS Centre thundering, the din was even louder because it was Laine. The Finnish forward was the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, taken after Auston Matthews went first overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Matthews’ four goals Wednesday night in his NHL debut had everyone buzzing Thursday morning, and Laine was asked after the morning skate at MTS Centre if he felt the need to have an impressive debut game.
“It would be great to score my first goal but the two points is more important to me,” he said.
Turns out, Laine got the goal and the Jets got the two points. The Canes left with one point and a lot of disappointment in the locker room after a game that got away.
“They’ve already talked among themselves,” Canes coach Bill Peters said of the players. “They know what happened. It’s very similar to last year in this building.”
In a Feb. 5 game, the Canes surged to a 4-0 lead after the first period. The Jets recovered and pulled within 4-3 in the third, but a late goal by the Canes’ Andrej Nestrasil sealed a 5-3 win.
But the Jets completed the comeback Thursday. In the overtime, Wheeler collected the puck after Justin Faulk tried to glove it out of the air, then found Scheifele for the winner.
Wheeler was named the Jets captain before the season. He played like one Thursday.
“Blake Wheeler played a great game,” Stempniak said. “He was all over the place.”
The Canes do not have a designated captain. A strong captain might have helped Thursday. Then again, the Jets played like a team not to be denied in the third period and overtime.
“It’s the first game. There’s 81 more,” Skinner said. “It’s something we can take and learn from.”