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Jets extinguish Flames in home opener

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – With more than half a calendar year between games, you almost forget how electric this building can get.

Almost. Until something like that happens.

Dustin Byfuglien broke a 1-1 tie with 1:28 left in the third period, propelling the Winnipeg Jets to a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames Friday at MTS Centre.

Byfuglien made a move at the line, going between the legs on Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman before squeezing a shot short side on Kari Ramo for the winner – and in the process, nearly bringing the house down.

Anticipating the pass, Ramo was caught deep in his net, unable to hold the near post.

Calgary challenged the play, hoping to have the goal called back because of a missed offside, but after review the call on the ice was upheld.

“I went down the wall and tried something I don’t do very often,” said Byfuglien, who finished the night with three shots in over 21 minutes of ice time.

Blake Wheeler added an empty netter with 53 seconds to play. Bryan Little scored the other goal for the Jets, while Ondrej Pavelec made 19 saves.

On a related note, if anyone sees the roof kicking around, please return it to 300 Portage Ave, ASAP.

“He’s a guy that’s fun to watch when he’s playing his game,” Little said of Byfuglien. “He’s so strong on the puck, and he has a nice pair of hands with a great shot, too. When he wants to take the puck to the net, there aren’t many guys in the league that can stop him.”

The Jets have now outscored their opponents 8-2 in the third period early in this young season. A big reason for that is the play of the team's top line of Wheeler, Little and Andrew Ladd, who have now combined for 15 points (7G, 8A) in five games.

“We’ve built a little more confidence in our games,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Other than the Islanders game, we haven’t been chasing (the puck). Being on the right side of the ledger on three of the four games coming into tonight helps you play a little different. … We got behind it a little bit with our offensive game [in the first period], but we got out of that mindset early in the second and were pretty good after that.”

The visitors opened the scoring just three-and-a-half minutes in as an uncovered Mikael Backlund shovelled home the rebound following a Sam Bennett wraparound try.

Former Jet Michael Frolik recorded the second assist.

Shots on goal favoured the Flames 11-8 after a sluggish opening 20.

“This wasn’t the energy we wanted to come out with,” Little said. “We hung in there, we stuck with it and we picked it up a lot in the second.”

The Jets levelled the score midway through when Wheeler’s thigh-high pass to Little took a fortuitous bounce in the blue paint. No. 18 was credited with the goal – his third in two games – after the puck struck his right heel, altering course around the pad of the goaltender.

From there, the game opened up and the home side took over.

Nikolaj Ehlers – who was buzzing all night – had the best chance in the middle frame, leading an odd-man rush with Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault. Flying down the wing, Ehlers fired a shot that handcuffed Ramo, but the puck stayed out. It was part of an 8-0 run in shot attempts by the Jets, igniting the sold-out crowd of 15,294.

The Jets outshot the Flames 22-9 the rest of the way, setting the stage for Byfuglien's heroics.

“It’s so unusual for a man that big to be able to do some of the things that he can do at high rates of speed,” Maurice said. “The second half of that game, he was really good all over the ice, especially in his own end making plays and helping us get our offensive game going.”

The Jets are back in action on Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues. Puck drop is at 2:00pm CT and you can watch the game live on TSN3.

– Ryan Dittrick,

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