WINNIPEG – A slow start cost the Winnipeg Jets Friday as a four-goal first period powered the Carolina Hurricanes to a 5-3 win at MTS Centre.
The Jets nearly completed the comeback, scoring three unanswered – including two in the third period, courtesy Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien – but they ran out of time after outshooting the Hurricanes 19-6 in the final frame.
Andrej Nestrasil spoiled the party with a dagger late in the third, scoring his second of the game on a breakaway with 1:20 to play.
“That moment is there in your life. You’re down 4-0,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “You’ve got to deal with it one way or another and we dealt with it the right way. I thought scoring the goal late in the second was really important. We had 12 minutes early in the second where we were really good and didn’t get the benefit.
“I’m not going to try and blend the two moments and say one makes the other OK, but when you’re at that moment and things are awful and you’re embarrassed by the way you’re playing, we handled it as best they could and did a hell of a job digging out of a hole.”
Alexander Burmistrov got the Jets on the board at 18:35 of the second, burying a centering pass from Chris Thorburn for his fifth of the year.
From there, the ice was tilted.
The Jets cut deficit to two with Ladd’s power-play goal at 9:07 of the third. With Jeff Skinner off serving a hooking penalty, Ladd crashed the net and cleaned up the rebound from a Byfuglien point shot.
Three quick goals gave the Hurricanes a commanding lead just four-and-a-half minutes into the first, while another midway through poured salt into the already gaping wound.
Phillip Di Giuseppe got the ball rolling at 1:43 as he chopped home his fourth of the year, pouncing on a loose puck at the side after it banked hard off the end boards. Sophomore sensation Victor Rask recorded the only assist as he intercepted a pass in the middle and fired a shot wide of the cage.
Carolina took a 2-0 lead at 3:05 as Andrej Nestrasil made short work of a rebound at the bottom of the far circle, whipping it past Hellebuyck for his first in 10 games.
Jordan Staal’s power-play goal put the Hurricanes up by three, punishing Dustin Byfuglien and the Jets were an unlucky delay of game (puck over the glass) penalty. The 27-year-old rifled a shot off the far post and in, ending the night for Connor Hellebuyck more than 55 minutes early.
Michael Hutchinson came on in relief, stopping 15 of 17 in his first action in over a month. The immediate effect, however, did little to sway the momentum. Carolina all-star Justin Faulk – alone in front of the net – hacked a bouncing puck five-hole at 10:04.
Shots on goal favoured the ‘Canes 11-4 at this point.
“They did the exact same thing to Chicago two games ago and blew the doors off,” Maurice said. “We didn’t give your goaltender an opportunity to hold that time and our goaltender didn’t give us an opportunity to get through that time.”
Hutchinson, meanwhile, said it was a “mental battle” over the last few weeks, but he made of his practice time to stay sharp.
“It was challenging,” he said. “Everyone’s competitive and everyone wants to play every single night. When you’re not playing it’s tough and you try to make your practices your games. You find ways to have fun during practice to keep the stretches when you’re not playing to seem a little shorter. I think I handled it well”
Looking for a spark following the first intermission, Maurice juggled the forward line combinations. Of note, Bryan Little joined Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers on the new No. 1 unit, while Mark Scheifele moved down to pivot the second line alongside Mathieu Perreault and Drew Stafford.
As a result, the Jets were the better of the two teams in the final 40 minutes, outshooting the Hurricanes 12-11 and getting the better of the scoring chances.
“We got going,” Andrew Ladd said. “We got our legs going, we got moving. It’s pretty simple. There’s no special formula. We should understand by now, what needs to happen right from the drop of the puck for us to be successful and that’s moving and being on the puck.”
“When you go in you always hope you’re going to give your team a bit of a spark,” Hutchinson said. “We did. We played really well in the second and third and gave ourselves a chance to get a win.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com