WINNIPEG - The Minnesota Wild may be one of the best teams in the National Hockey League, but on this night, in the opener of a four-game home stand, the Winnipeg Jets gave them all they could handle.
It just wasn't enough.
Three goals on 14 shots before the five-minute mark of the second period proved to be the difference as the Wild jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and held on for a 4-2 win.
Jason Pominville had four points (2G, 2A) and Charlie Coyle had three assists.
Bryan Little and Joel Armia scored for Winnipeg. Ondrej Pavelec made 11 saves on 14 shots before suffering a lower-body injury and being replaced by Connor Hellebuyck at 6:15 of the second period.
Pavelec did not return, while Hellebuyck stopped all 10 shots he faced in relief.
The Jets put up 40 shots and played one of their best games in recent memory, but without the win, there was an obvious, empty feeling in the dressing room and with the head coach following the game.
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
"You're going to be in a bad mood tomorrow. You're going to find the things that you don't like in your game, so it's not going to be a gentle meeting," said Paul Maurice.
"This is a Canadian market and I try to be as honest as I can be about our performance every night. I didn't like the way we played in Dallas. We won the game, fine. But you've got to hold (the players) to the fact that winning is everything in pro sports. At the same time, you've got to have an assessment of your game that's honest. In terms of improvements, that's as well as we've played in a while against some pretty good teams. We played the best team in our conference (and) I thought we were better. I think we were better than them throughout the game, but I know we were better than we've been in a hell of a long time."
The Jets had a 12-10 lead in shots, but trailed the Wild by a pair on the scoreboard after one period of play. Pominville scored early in the second to give the visitors a 3-0 lead, but the Jets replied just 3:02 later. Jacob Trouba's blast from the right point was blocked in front, but Little jumped on the rebound and buried a backhander to make it a 3-1 game with his 15th of the year.
Video: MIN@WPG: Little buries loose puck with a backhand
On a power play just a few minutes later, the Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon swiped a puck off the goal line as Mark Scheifele dove for it in the blue paint.
It was just that close.
So, too, was a chance late in the third when Dustin Byfuglien put a puck off the post before it was knocked away by a pair of Minnesota defenders.
"There's a lot of good things we can take out of this game," Byfuglien said. "We outshot them and played a pretty good game. It's not the result we wanted but we've got to keep taking steps forward."
Video: POSTGAME | Dustin Byfuglien
The Jets made it a one-goal game at 16:41 of the third as Armia scored his fourth of the year and first in eight games, firing a shot from the top of the circle that handcuffed Devan Dubnyk and beat him upstairs over the left shoulder.
Minnesota was awarded a penalty shot just moments later when Byfuglien shot the discarded stick of Jason Zucker at Mikael Granlund. After some discussion, Granlund took the shot, but Hellebuyck outwaited him and he lost the handle in tight as he attempted the Forsberg deke.
Byfuglien admitted afterward that he was not aware of that rule.
"No clue," he said, shaking his head. "That was something I learned today."
The Jets were in full control, pouring on the pressure and outshooting the Wild 16-6 in the middle frame.
Nino Niederreiter opened the scoring for the Wild at 11:51 of the first period. Niederreiter took the puck down the left side, toe-dragged at the top of the circles and ripped a quick shot through a defender and over the glove to score his team-leading 16th of the year.
Pominville put the Wild up by two with only 41 seconds left, bombing a shot from the right circle just under the arm of Pavelec, who got a small piece of it en route. The goal came on the heels of a turnover, as Patrik Laine had his pass picked off in the neutral zone before Pominville carried it back the other way with speed.
The Jets were the better team overall in the period, but Dubnyk made 12 saves to keep the Wild in front. Andrew Copp was Winnipeg's best forward and had two glorious opportunities in tight, but Dubnyk made a great save on one, while he fired wide on the other, keeping the opposition on top by two.
Despite that, the Jets were fortunate to be down by only a pair, as the Wild squandered a couple of Grade A chances early - including Zucker sailing a shot over the wide open net - that could have ruined the home team's hopes entirely.
Instead, they outshot them 28-14 the rest of the way.
"We didn't have a great start, but I thought we turned it on and did some good things, regardless of the score," Blake Wheeler said.
"I thought we controlled a good portion of the play."
They did. It just didn't produce a win, which is what the Jets desperately need right now.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com