WINNIPEG – Conventional wisdom around the National Hockey League is the rowdy MTS Centre crowd is supposed to smooth over the Winnipeg Jets’ various blemishes.
But the Boston Bruins fear no building and took a 3-2 decision Sunday evening against the Jets. The win moved Boston’s road mark to 5-1-1 and tempered the lingering sting of a sloppy loss against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night that kicked off a five-game journey for the Bruins.
A number of significant wins on Winnipeg ice last season – including two wins against the Bruins, one of which snapped a 14-0-1 Boston streak -- bolstered MTS Centre’s reputation around the League. But visitors to the 15,015-seat building have adjusted, and the home-ice advantage now seems a bit less formidable for a Winnipeg team that has lost four straight games at home and won just three of eight so far in Winnipeg this season.
"Our homestands last season were a strength of our team," Jets coach Claude Noel said of his squad, which now faces a five-game road trip of its own. "You know that if you don't have a good road trip, it's going to be a tough grind."
Winnipeg (5-8-1) sent only 24 shots at Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask while Pavelec made 23 saves for the Jets. Winnipeg’s Alexander Burmistrov and Evander Kane tallied for the hosts. Tyler Seguin and Daniel Paille also supplied goals for the Bruins, who played without Milan Lucic. Veteran Jay Pandolfo made his season debut in place of Lucic, who returned to Boston on Saturday to attend to a personal matter.
"After a couple of tough losses," Rask said, "we needed to get the win."
Boston (9-2-2) moved into second place in the Eastern Conference, while the Jets are mired in 14th place.
"It was a big one," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said of picking up a win after allowing three third-period goals that erased a second-intermission lead against the Sabres. "It was a hard win."
The Bruins erased two Winnipeg one-goal leads, the second of them with 1.3 seconds left in the second period that sent the game into the second intermission tied at two. Then Winnipeg’s Ron Hainsey pulled down Brad Marchand in the third period’s opening minute. Twenty-seven seconds later against the League’s worst penalty kill, Marchand flipped a backhanded shot over Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec’s glove for a one-goal lead that the Bruins nursed through the final period. Boston spaced the tying and go-ahead goals 38 seconds apart.
"You think that you're going to be coming into the dressing room by a goal," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Paille’s tying goal. "This isn't an easy building to play in to start with, so it was disappointing when they took that 2-1 lead. But to score that goal just gave us more life. We came in here knowing that with a tied game it comes down to the last 20 minutes."
Marchand’s goal came on the only man-advantage of the game for the Bruins, who began the evening ranked 29th on the power play.
"I think we're pretty confident in our power play right now," Marchand said. "We just need to build a little bit more every game."
Recently the Bruins had held a meeting to discuss their power play, Marchand disclosed. Moving the puck more crisply has been an area of emphasis for Julien’s club.
"We talked about it," Julien said of the power play. "There is a lot pressure that comes from the outside, and there is a lot of pressure that comes from the inside. The guys want to do well, but at the same time I think it's important to understand that how we execute and how hard we compete is what is going to make things happen."
Meanwhile Boston’s League-best penalty kill shut down a third-period Winnipeg power play, holding the Jets without a shot.
"You've got to kill those, especially late in the game," Paille said. "We're really clicking on that penalty kill."
With a three-game homestand that produced no upward movement in the Eastern Conference standings, the Jets must now go on the road, a place that has tormented them since their relocation to Winnipeg before last season. Starting Tuesday against the Sabres, the Jets face a five-game road trip that will begin a stretch of nine of 11 games away from Winnipeg. The Jets have won only two of their first six road contests and will depart Winnipeg without defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who had an MRI Saturday for an injury suffered Friday.
"You look at the standings, you can't fall behind," Noel said. "For us, you've got to put some wins together."
Pavelec concurred that the Jets face a critical point in their season.
"We have to start winning on the road, Pavelec said. "We lost a couple games at home in our building where we felt comfortable, so now we have to start winning on the road. I don’t want to say this is the most important road trip of the season, but the next five or six games are going to be huge. If we don’t play well on the road, we could be in big trouble."
Winnipeg again struggled to muster a strong first-period inside of MTS Centre. Opponents have outscored Winnipeg 15-7 in first periods this season, and Winnipeg managed only five shots through the opening 20 minutes. An inability to put pucks on net, an issue for much of the season, continued as well, as the Jets registered 12 missed shots. In all, Boston blocked 20 Winnipeg shots, and the Jets missed on another 26 attempts.
"Pretty disappointed in the game, said Noel, who had criticized his club’s effort through the first quarter of the season three days earlier. "I thought we battled. It's disappointing in the fashion that we lost the game. That's the disappointing thing -- the way it [unfolded]. After that, you're chasing the game."
However, the Jets rebounded early in the second period, scoring first for only the fifth time this season. Zach Bogosian launched a heavy shot from just inside the Boston blue line along the boards. Bogosian’s shot climbed on Rask, who failed to smother it. Burmistrov eluded Bruins defender Dougie Hamilton and tapped the rebound low past Rask’s left glove at 1:43. The goal provided their Jets their first lead in a span of 141:43 dating back to a Feb. 9 win road win against the Ottawa Senators.
Boston answered halfway through the middle period. Seguin jabbed a rising left-side shot from Zdeno Chara that the bounced through Pavelec’s legs with 9:03 to go in the period. Seguin’s was only his third after a 29-goal output last season.
"I got close to the net and put my stick out," Seguin explained. "I'm pretty sure I closed my eyes."
Kane broke his eight-game goal drought with 26.3 seconds left in the second period. Burmistrov work the puck in the right corner to Nikolai Antropov, who backhanded a pass into the slot to Kane. Rask stopped Kane’s first chance before the big Winnipeg left wing outmuscled Nathan Horton and Dennis Seidenberg and battered his own rebound past Rask.
But Boston again broke a Winnipeg lead. Johnny Boychuk sent a long shot from the right point into the slot that Paille redirected between Pavelec’s pads with 1.5 seconds left in the second period to set up Marchand’s third-period strike.
"Special teams is how you're going to win in this League," Bogosian said. "Any given team can win on any given night. It's just a matter of how hard you battle."
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