CHICAGO, Illinois – The Winnipeg Jets have developed a flair for the dramatic.
Or in the case of Friday night at the United Center, the dramatically entertaining.
Two goals in 28 seconds helped the Jets soar past the Blackhawks, silencing the 22,051 en masse in a 4-2 win in the Windy City.
Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little, Chris Thorburn and Andrew Ladd (empty net) scored for the Jets, while Michael Hutchinson made 31 saves in the winning effort.
For the third time this season, the Jets left town and one of the league’s most difficult road environments with a victory, clinching the season series with two games to play.
“This was as good a character win as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “It hasn’t been a tough schedule – it’s been a brutal schedule having played six games in nine days.
“It was a game like the way we play. It wasn’t all pretty, but we fought for every puck, we battled, we blocked shots… We play on energy and I can’t imagine (the players) had any. Just great leadership in the locker room. They got themselves up and ready to play."
With the win, the Jets improve to 24-14-8 on the year and are now only two points back of the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues for second in the Central Division.
In the process, the Jets have strengthened their lead in the Western Conference wild card race and are now six points up on the idle Los Angeles Kings and seven on the first non-playoff team, the Calgary Flames.
The Blackhawks raced out to an early lead, scoring at the 53-second mark after winning a defensive zone draw and quickly turning it back up ice with a purpose. Knifing in on his off wing, Brandon Saad delivered a devious backhand shot on goal, handcuffing Hutchinson as it drifted up and into the far corner of the cage.
“Something we’ve been really good at this year is not allowing that to affect us or our energy on the bench,” Ladd said. “(The Blackhawks) bring the best out in us. We know coming in it’s going to be a challenge, but maybe that gives us some urgency to get moving and get on them.”
Mere minutes after the icebreaker, tempers flared as Bryan Bickell sprung a dubious hit on an unsuspecting Jim Slater. Squaring off, Anthony Peluso came to his teammate’s defence, dropping a series of devastating shots in an easily declared, one-sided decision.
“That energized our bench even more,” Ladd said.
Peluso was given the extra two for instigating, putting the Hawks’ power-play to work. That and a later infraction (goaltender interference on Blake Wheeler) were both killed with ease, preserving the slim, 1-0 deficit past the midway mark of the period.
The visitors turned it up offensively from that point forward in the opening 20.
Bogosian brought the game back on even terms at 10:46, firing a slap shot through a maze, cleanly beating a screened Corey Crawford shortly after Wheeler’s penalty expired. Little and Ladd recorded the assists, engineering the play with some fabulous work down low.
On the heels of yet another devastating hit, the gloves hit the ice once more with 6:45 to play in the period. After levelling Patrick Kane with a bomb along the half wall, Slater went toe-to-toe with all-star Brent Seabrook.
The defenceman earned the decision, but he, too, was tagged with the instigator.
However, the ensuing Jets power-play fell by the wayside.
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 16-12 after a highly entertaining first period of play.
With 9.4 seconds left in the second, Daniel Carcillo delivered a vicious cross-check to the arm of Mathieu Perreault, sparking a bit of a melee before the period expired. Coincidental penalties put the teams in a 4-on-4 situation, which carried over into the third.
Perreault, who came into the night with 22 points in his last 19 games, left with an upper-body injury and did not return.
Maurice said he’ll be “checked out” on Saturday.
“We dug a little deeper for him,” Thorburn said. “Our mindset coming in was to give ourselves a chance and leave everything out there. We’ve got a day off coming up, so we threw everything at them.”
On a power-play chance midway through the third, the Jets engineered a gorgeous play for the go-ahead goal. Gliding in from the point, Bogosian sent a beautiful cross-seam feed through to Little, who made no mistake in finishing, giving the Jets a 2-1 lead with 10:29 to play.
Twenty-eight seconds later, the Jets added another. This time it was Thorburn doing the damage, skilfully redirecting an Adam Lowry shot for the goal.
“It felt good,” Thorburn said. “My linemates were rattling around out there, making it easy for me.”
The Blackhawks made a game of it late as Teuvo Teravainen scored his first NHL goal at 12:43, but the Jets held on amid a flurry in the final few minutes.
Ladd secured the win with an empty-netter with 29 seconds to play.
“The schedule’s been tough lately and guys are banged up, but we really came together and sucked it up for 60 minutes,” Little said.
“When your confidence is high like it is right now, that’s the type of effort you’re going to get.”