WINNIPEG – On a night when a playoff-like vibe filled MTS Centre, special teams proved to be the difference in a heated tilt between two Central Division rivals.
On the strength of four power-play goals, the Dallas Stars defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-2.
John Klingberg led the way with two goals and two assists, while Kari Lehtonen made 38 saves in the win. Andrew Ladd and Toby Enstrom tallied the lone markers for the Jets.
“The only thing that really gave them any life was their power-play,” Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who made 27 saves in a losing effort, said post-game.
“We outshot them, out-chanced them…
“They were getting a lot of pucks to the net and getting a lot of puck luck as well. Pucks were hitting shin pads and bouncing around off sticks. But that’s what happens when you get shots to the net and have those skilled players that can get to those soft areas.”
The Jets got off to an energetic start, but it was slowly deflated on the heels of what Head Coach Paul Maurice described as “undisciplined” penalties.
Mark Stuart set the tone early with a devastating hit on Stars defenceman John Klingberg, levelling him along the half wall. Immediately after, the Jets went on the attack offensively, stringing together a pair of quality scoring chances in quick succession. Kari Lehtonen (and his glove-side post) stood tall, foiling
Ladd and Blake Wheeler within minutes of each other to preserve the scoreless tie early on.
That proved to be key, as the visitors opened the scoring moments later, 15 seconds into a power-play chance. With Ben Chiarot off for interference, Patrick Eaves pounced on a loose puck in tight,
rifling it top shelf on Hutchinson.
The Jets nearly brought the game back on even terms late in the opening 20 when Evander Kane, Chris Thorburn and Adam Lowry choreographed a beautiful 3-on-1 rush. Lowry was the last to touch, but his shot from the between the hash marks went off the backside of the lone defender, Vernon Fiddler,
keeping the Stars in front.
The Jets trailed 11-10 in shots through one, but finished the period on a 4-0.
Winnipeg continued the onslaught; chance after chance, they just couldn’t cash. Among them, a nifty feed from Dustin Byfuglien to a wide-open Anthony Peluso, but he misfired on the far side, the puck sailing wide of the yawning cage left by the goaltender.
Finally, it happened.
Capping a dominant shift that saw the top line pin the Stars in their own end for well over a minute, Ladd took a pass from Stuart, stepped up to the top of the faceoff circle and beamed a shot up and over the shoulder of Lehtonen for the equalizer.
And so they roared. Oh, did they roar.
Unfortunately for the Jets, the exhilaration didn’t last, despite outshooting the Stars 18-13 in the middle frame.
A pair of power-play goals (Shawn Horcoff and Jason Spezza) in the final 5:39 of the second period gave the Stars a 3-1 lead heading into the third.
Dallas finished the night 4-for-8 with the man-advantage – one of which was a full, two-minute 5-on-3 created by separate roughing penalties to Byfuglien and Bryan Little.
“We did well in the second period – 5-on-5, anyway – of getting back in the game and competing,” Ladd said. “Penalty trouble interrupts the flow of getting everybody involved in the game. And we weren’t killing those off. … It wasn’t off the rails at that point. I still thought we were doing some good things, but it’s tough when you’re building momentum and you end up in the box.
“It’s something that we need to get better at. At times you try to wind yourself up as much as possible. But sometimes we’ve been taking it too far. We’ve got to do better at walking that line
(aggressiveness) and being more disciplined.”
“We’re not moving at anywhere near the rate of speed [that we need to], and with the assuredness of the routes that we’re running and the things that we’re doing,” Maurice added. “We’re slow on our (penalty) kill right now and that’s a confidence thing.”
Klingberg put the game on ice at 4:31 of the third, sifting a long shot through a screen and past Hutchinson, dribbling across the line after sliding five-hole.
Blasting a shot up and over blocker of Lehtonen, Enstrom brought the Jets within three with 7:14 left in the period, but it wasn’t enough.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com