WINNIPEG – That one certainly lived up to the billing.
What. A. Night.
Dustin Byfuglien scored a beautiful goal at the four-minute mark of overtime, lifting the Winnipeg Jets to an electric 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night at MTS centre.
Byfuglien looked off on a 2-on-1 with Blake Wheeler, picking the far corner on Devan Dubnyk from a near impossible angle for the OT winner.
“You’ve got to take a look at that goal and where he got that shot off from,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said, marvelling at the play from his star defenceman-turned forward. “I’m not sure how many players can do that. On a 2-on-1, use the other two guys as decoys, dig it out of your feet and get it upstairs like that…
“It was a spectacular overtime goal. There aren’t a lot of guys that can make that read as well as he did. Pretty impressive.”
Catch your breath, Winnipeg. It’s going to be a heck of a ride, these last 26 games.
With the win, the Jets (28-18-10) improve to 66 points on the year, seven up on the Wild and Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Wild Card. The Jets are now only four points back of the Chicago Blackhawks for third in the Central Division.
Michael Hutchinson made 20 saves in the win, snapping a personal four-game slide.
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 15-8 after one period of play, but Devan Dubnyk, who came into the night boasting an 8-1-1 record with the Wild, was marvellous early on.
Bryan Little was the most notable victim in the opening 20, leering to the heavens after failing to score on a beautiful setup from Mathieu Perreault. Little got all of his one-time shot in tight, but Dubnyk came up with a spectacular sprawling save, using every inch of his 6-foot-6 frame to lunge across and vex the four-time 20-goal scorer.
“It’s all about that memory bank. When you can have a period like that, you know we’re doing things right,” Maurice said. “We know what we’re doing out there and it’s a good feeling we have from the bench. We looked like the team that went into the (all-star) break.”
The middle frame had more of the same – unremitting territorial dominance from the Jets – but Dubnyk had an answer for the onslaught, stopping an additional nine shots. Perreault had the best chance of the period on a late power-play chance, but he couldn’t cash, burying a one-time shot into the pads after receiving a pass in the blue paint.
Not be outdone, Hutchinson came up with a pair of game-savers late in the stanza, the latter of which came hot off the stick of Nino Niederreiter on a 2-on-1 rush.
“He’s been playing great all season and we knew he was going to make some good saves,” Hutchinson said. “He held their team in there and gave them a chance. When that happens, you, as a goaltender, really have to buckle down, because you might only get one or two [goals] offensively.
“It’s nice to put wins together, especially with our tight things are. It was huge to put some more distance between us.”
After 40 minutes, the Jets had a Corsi For percentage of 66.1 (37-19). (Corsi is a measure of all even-strength shot attempts [shots on goal, shots blocked and shots that miss the net].)
Perreault was at it again early in the third, beaming a shot off the bottom of the crossbar. Play on.
Soon, the pace quickened. Back and forth, end-to-end, the teams traded chances until the Jets blew the roof off MTS Centre. A long shot by Toby Enstrom deflected off a Minnesota defender en route, putting the home side up 1-0 at 7:53.
“It was a tough grind and we had to get comfortable in the game,” Maurice said. “But we stick with it and we got a break on their net.”
But we weren’t done.
Pouncing a loose puck in the slot, Jason Pominville brought the game back on even terms, rifling a shot past Hutchinson within minutes of the icebreaker.
It was all Jets from that point forward, though, culminating in Byfuglien’s big goal with exactly a minute left in overtime.
“Both teams are taking the right steps to get into playoff mode,” he said. “For our young guys, that’s probably the closest they’ve seen to a playoff game so far.
“A win’s a win. We got our two points and we’ve got to be happy.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com