WINNIPEG – Winnipeg Jets fans saw everything they wanted to see on Saturday night when the Anaheim Ducks paid their only visit of the season to the MTS Centre. They had the opportunity to pay homage to Winnipeg hockey hero Teemu Selanne before the Jets delivered a 5-3 win in front of another exuberant sellout crowd of 15,004.
Winnipeg fans wrapped up the evening with another round of "Tee-mu!" chants for Selanne, who repaid the tribute by handing his stick to a fan in the crowd before being named the night's third star. Selanne then skated to center ice to salute the fans once more.
In his first game in Winnipeg since Feb. 4, 1996, Selanne received several extended standing ovations and a video tribute from the Jets before earning assists of two of the Ducks' three goals. Selanne's extended his point streak to eight games, tying him with Patrick Sharp and Steven Stamkos for the longest streak in the League this season. Selanne has five goals and 18 points in his last 15 games and leads the Ducks in scoring.
"It was unbelievable," Selanne said of the return. "I didn't really know what to expect. It was something I could never imagine, it was so special. This is a dream come true to come back and play here one more time."
But the Jets (15-13-4), overshadowed by Selanne's first visit since their move to Winnipeg, reclaimed the spotlight. They received a pregame boost with the return of defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who had missed 20 games with a broken collarbone suffered on Oct. 31 at Florida. Nik Antropov and Alexander Burmistrov also returned after two-game injury absences.
"I thought that they gave all we could handle certainly from a physicality standpoint," Jets coach Claude Noel said of facing Anaheim's corps of big forwards. "We got a win. I wouldn't say it was the prettiest win, but we got a win. It was a hard game to play for our players. It was a hard, physical game, and it wore us down. There was a lot of pressure everywhere."
"It wasn't the prettiest game," Ladd said, "but we got timely goals and good goaltending. We got two points, so we'll move on. It's a huge two points."
The Jets have won eight of their past 10 home games, and Mason has won his past two starts at home.
"I thought that Mason made some key saves and battled his heart out," Noel said.
Mason admitted that he and his defensemen struggled to communicate early in the game amid the raucous crowd that cheered Selanne's every touch of the puck.
"[I was] trying to communicate with [my] d-men," Mason said, "but it was kind of pointless, because I could barely hear myself. It was pretty cool, though. You can just see what [Selanne] means to the city and how high he holds Winnipeg.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau gave Dan Ellis only his third start since Nov. 17 after the Chicago Blackhawks touched Jonas Hiller for four goals in Friday night's 4-1 loss. But Ellis surrendered a season-high five goals on 31 Winnipeg shots, and Boudreau felt that his goaltender did not give the Ducks key saves when they were needed.
"They've got to make those saves," Boudreau said.
Anaheim's offense came from Corey Perry, who scored his team-leading13th and 14th goals, while Niklas Hagman popped in his fifth goal and Ryan Getzlaf notched two assists. In the midst of a five-game road trip, Anaheim – 9-18-5 overall and 2-9-4 away from home – has lost five straight road games.
One of the most dangerous first-period clubs in the NHL, Winnipeg owned a 2-0 lead just 6:19 into the opening period on the strength of goals from a pair of players battling scoring droughts. Wellwood, who had not scored in 10 games, stepped into a scramble of players in front of Ellis and pushed a rebound under the goaltender for a 1-0 lead. Wellwood also had not scored at the MTS Centre since tallying against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 17.
Just 1:25 later and with Perry's high-sticking minor giving the Jets their first power play, Wheeler scooped up the rebound of a rolling Byfuglien shot from inside the left circle and swept it behind Ellis. Wheeler's goal ended his eight-game dry spell, though he had accumulated seven assists during that span.
The two goals gave the Jets 36 first-period goals this season, second in the League.
After an Anaheim timeout and the in-house video tribute to Selanne, the 41-year-old sniper went about halving the Ducks' 2-0 deficit at 14:34. Selanne stepped over his own blue line and lofted a high pass deep into the Winnipeg zone that Hagman received before stepping around Bogosian and snapping a shot low past Mason. Just 3:52 later, the Ducks again took advantage of another Winnipeg breakdown in coverage when Getzlaf pierced the Winnipeg neutral zone with a long stretch pass to Perry, who grabbed it in stride at the far blue line, cruised in on Mason and tied the game at 2-2.
But the Jets addressed their first-period breakdowns after the first intermission and scored their quickest goal to start a period this season. Thirty-one seconds into the middle period, Burmistrov broke down the right side, his off-wing, before launching a rising wrist shot that caught the far top corner over Ellis's blocker.
It became 4-2 at 18:20 when Byfuglien angled a pass from the right point into the high slot, where the puck caught Ladd's skate. While the puck moved toward the net, Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler pushed Antropov into Ellis, allowing the puck to slide into the vacated net.
"I was going for a high tip," Ladd explained with a smile, "and Buff saw me. True to Buff, he put it right in my feet, and it ended up in the net."
The Ladd goal irked Boudreau and the Anaheim bench -- Boudreau believed that the puck hitting Ladd's skate and Antropov's contact with Ellis merited review.
"Why it wasn't reviewed here is beyond me," Boudreau said. "The refs just said no. I‘d like to have an answer for it, but evidently I won't get one. It was real turning point in the game, I thought."
Winnipeg sealed the win in the opening three minutes of the third period when Chris Thorburn won a draw back to Bogosian at the right point. Bogosian wheeled to the high point before ripping a long shot that pushed its way through Ellis's pads at 2:49 for a 5-2 lead. Perry's power-play goal midway through the period merely gave the crowd another chance to cheer Selanne when he drew his second assist of the night.
Anaheim picked up a power-play goal from Perry with 9:34 left, but Mason closed out the Ducks the rest of the way.