The Jets rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, lost it, then won the game anyway.
Drew Stafford played the hero, registering his first goal as a Jet, and then adding the shootout-winner in a 5-4 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Chris Thorburn, Blake Wheeler, and Andrew Ladd scored the others for the Jets, while Michael Hutchinson made 25 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping all four shooters in the shootout.
With the win, the Jets improve to 68 points on the year and continue to hold down the top spot in the Western Conference Wild Card.
“Every point counts, so for us to battle back and get that extra point, it’s huge,” Stafford said.
“There’s no quit in this team.”
“The best part about tonight's game is the (new) guys feel that they’ve put something in the bank," Head Coach Paul Maurice said of Stafford and fellow newcomer Tyler Myers, who had an exceptional outing, recording a pair of assists in almost 23 minutes of ice time.
"They’ve contributed to what’s gone on here, so now they have ownership. They’re part of the team now.”
Quick starts have been a theme for the Jets all season, outscoring their opponents 53-41 in the opening period coming in.
“It’s what the Jets are all about,” Jets winger Mathieu Perreault said after the morning skate. “We always come out hard and it’s going to be no different tonight.”
Gaining position on 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenceman Alexey Marchenko front, Thorburn redirected Jacob Trouba’s point shot through the wickets of Jimmy Howard, giving the Jets a 1-0 lead at 2:36.
The play of Hutchinson was the real story of the period, however, as the goaltender made 13 saves, including a number of the highlight-reel variety. Back-to-back blocker saves – the latter of which coming off the stick of the Magic Man, Pavel Datsyuk, on a partial break – were a sign of things to come. Late in a Red Wings power-play chance, the 24-year-old came up with acrobatic save, sliding post-to-post and kicking out his left leg to deny Gustav Nyquist at the lip of the crease.
“He’s a fighter,” Maurice said. “They had a lot of shots and they were all really close around the posts that he had to fight to get to.”
Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop them all.
Facing a full, two-minute, two-man disadvantage late in the opening 20, Niklas Kronwall blasted a one-time shot top shelf, making it a 1-1 game at 16:54. Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd were in the box at the time, serving separate infractions (boarding and holding, respectively) called a minute and 38 seconds earlier.
The penalties kept coming.
With Myers off serving a slashing minor, Darren Helm backhanded a shot past Hutchinson after following up on his own centering attempt, giving the Wings their first lead at the two-minute mark of the middle frame.
The Wings’ power-play came into the night operating at a 29.7 percent clip this season at Joe Louis Arena.
Helm was the penultimate factor in another Detroit goal a short while later. His shot from the near half wall glanced off the sweater of Datsyuk in front, giving the Wings a 3-1 lead at 5:55.
“Unfortunately we fell behind, but it just goes to show the kind of character we have in this room,” Stafford said. “No one got down on the bench and we picked it up.”
Indeed, the Jets were quick to respond.
Driving the net in pursuit of rebound left by the smooth-skating Myers, Wheeler deposited the garbage, pulling the Jets within one at 7:04. Moments later, they made it a 3-3 game as Stafford scored on the power-play, sailing a backhand shot through Howard before the period was half over.
Four goals. Eight minutes. All square.
The Jets had 16 shots in the second for a two-period total of 22.
"From the 1-0 to the 3-1 goal, we were on our heels a little bit. They were quicker than us," Maurice said. "Wheeler’s goal off Myers’ rush did it for us. We got that good feeling back and after that, we played a pretty darn good game."
Ladd gave the Jets a 4-3 lead with a beautiful goal at 4:38 of the third period, rifling a shot top shelf on Howard after receiving a one-touch pass from Trouba in the slot, but the advantage didn’t last. Datsyuk found a loose puck in the slot and beat Hutchinson with a pinpoint shot with 6:33 to play, levelling the score once again.
The Jets dominated overtime and nearly won the game several times, but couldn’t quite cash; Perreault was stopped on a breakaway and then, late in the extra period, a 4-on-3 power-play did everything but score in the waning seconds.
Stafford and Hutchinson did the rest.
“That’s one of the more fun parts of hockey,” the goaltender said of the shootout. “The fans enjoy it and it’s the part where you get to be really competitive. It’s just you and the other team’s shooter. I enjoy that pressure."
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com