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Hutchinson makes 29 saves as Jets blank Jackets

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – The drive for five has arrived in Winnipeg.

The Jets are heading into the NHL All-Star Weekend on a season-high five-game winning streak after knocking off the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0 on Wednesday night at MTS Centre.

This is the Jets’ first five-game winning streak since Apr. 6-18, 2013.

Michael Hutchinson made 29 saves for the shutout – the second in his young career – as he improves to 14-4-2 this season.

With the win, the Jets (26-14-8) remain two points back of the St. Louis Blues Chicago Blackhawks for second in the Central Division, and now have a seven-point lead over the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference wild card race.

Following the four-day break, the Jets return to action next Tuesday on the road in Pittsburgh.

“We were concerned about this game,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “(Columbus) came in playing well and we had to take a deep breath knowing we’ve got four days (off) coming up. They played very well – very quick – early on, but we were solid enough and our goaltender was really good.

“We were pretty strong after that initial push.”

Indeed, the Jets got the start they wanted after surviving the early pace.

With a beautiful goal 68 seconds in, the Jets took a 1-0 lead on their first shot of the night, courtesy of a spectacular, spin-around effort from Blake Wheeler in tight. Collecting a feed from Andrew Ladd at the lip of the crease, No. 26 diverted to his backhand, brushing a shot past all-star Sergei Bobrovsky for the opening score.

The Jets extended the lead on their very next shot at 6:06. Scorching down the wing, Evander Kane delivered a wrister from the far half wall, squeaking it through Bobrovsky on a play the goaltender would certainly love to have back.

“It’s always nice when your team gets the lead, especially a two-goal lead early. You know that you’re in for a good night after that,” Hutchinson said.

“It was the performance that we were looking for. The last couple games we’ve played out of our system a bit and gave up more scoring chances than we’re used to, but tonight we went back to the way we can play. We played solid defensively and we were opportunistic offensively.”

Bobrovsky responded with less than five to play in the period, robbing Mark Scheifele with a gorgeous glove save on the redirect. He was at it again late, sliding cross-crease to negate Wheeler’s bid for another as the Columbus power-play broke down.

The Jackets had a decisive territorial edge in the opening frame and as a result, carried a 14-6 lead in shots into the second period.

That mattered little to the Jets, who took control in the middle 20, outshooting the Jackets 17-6 for a two-period total of 23-20.

“Our team’s been resilient all year long,” Wheeler said. “I was happy with the way we came out. We’ve been ready to play all year.”

Jay Harrison let one fly through traffic 4:45 in into the second. Redirected en route by Jim Slater, the puck sailed past Bobrovsky to make it a 3-0 game. Back in the lineup after 16 games with a lower-body injury, Jacob Trouba recorded an assist.

“It takes a bit to get back up to game speed, but I felt good after a couple shifts,” Trouba said. “It was good to get back in the swing of things.”

Seconds afterward, Michael Frolik burst in on a clear-cut breakaway. Bobrovsky came up big, stopping the initial attempt and two others off the stick of Scheifele and Kane in quick succession, keeping the game in a 3-0 score as MTS Centre cheered, on and on.

That was the goaltender’s last hurrah.

With 12 minutes to play in the second period, Bobrovsky left the game with an apparent lower-body injury after stretching out to make a save. Curtis McElhinney came on in relief, replacing the ailing starter as he was helped off the ice.

Chris Thorburn put this one to bed with his fourth of the year at 14:10 of the second period. Driving wide on a 2-on-1 rush, No. 22 hammered it into the yawning cage after the initial try from Adam Lowry was kicked out into the circle.

Hutchinson stopped eight in the third period to preserve the shutout.

“It’s good to go into the break feeling positive about our game,” Maurice said.

“They’ve earned it. They deserve a good break.”

— Ryan Dittrick,

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