WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets were playing their third game in three-and-a-half days, and, for about a third of the night, anyway, it showed.
After a busy week of travel, beginning on Tuesday in Dallas, those already heavy legs - the result of a back-to-back, and another trip down south just 36 hours ago - had little to give in that opening frame, putting the Jets in a deep hole that they were unable to climb out of in the final 40 minutes.
The Jets had a strong and second and third, outshooting their opponents by 30-13 margin, but by then the damage had been done. Kyle Okposo scored twice and Brian Gionta chipped in with a single, while Robin Lehner made 37 saves to give the Buffalo Sabres to a 3-0 win over the Jets at MTS Centre.
Nikolaj Ehlers had Winnipeg's lone goal, putting home a loose puck after Blake Wheeler's point shot bounced out on the opposite off the end boards early in the third period. Ehlers, who now has a pair on the year, was moved back onto the top line with Wheeler and Mark Scheifele after a first period that saw the Jets fall behind by two.
Michael Hutchinson, who posted a 37-save shutout the other night in Denver, was pulled after allowing three goals on 15 shots. Connor Hellebuyck came on relief, stopping all 13 shots he faced.
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
"It's tough," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said, lamenting the squandered chance to win three straight for the first time this year. "We control(ed) a lot of the play and to be down by three goals, it shoots your momentum a little bit. I thought we did a good job staying with it. I thought we played that game in their end."
Ehlers, Wheeler and Scheifele combined for 14 of the Jets' 38 shots.
"I liked (Ehlers') game in Colorado. He didn't get much done, but he's starting to compete on the puck the way we did the last two months of last year," Maurice said. "Tonight he came out and was really going early. Mark and Blake needed a little bit of that. … When he's going like that, it makes that line a little bit different."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
The two Buffalo goals just 1:58 apart in the first period, and were both the result of Winnipeg turnovers.
Okposo drew first blood at 10:51 after the Sabres killed off an early penalty. The former Islander banged home a second shot - fortuitously picking the glove-hand corner in the process - after his initial blast from the edge of the right circle was blocked in front.
The Sabres took a two-love lead at 12:49 as Gionta led a 2-on-1 with the equally speedy Marcus Foligno, but the Buffalo captain looked off and fired a quick shot. Gionta then raced in and poked home his own rebound after Hutchinson, who made a great glove save on the first one, bobbled the puck in the blue paint.
The goal came on the heels of a strong shift by the Jets, but a wide shot by Byfuglien, combined with a leisurely change at the Winnipeg bench, created the odd-man opportunity.
Video: POSTGAME | Patrik Laine
Okposo made it a 3-0 game at 13:59 of the second after another turnover, 150 feet from the Winnipeg net, ended up in the back of it.
The Jets were in a middle of a change and failed the get the puck deep in a 1-on-4 play at the offensive blue line. The Sabres quickly turned it back the other way and Okposo sniped home his second of the night to give the visitors a commanding lead.
It was after this goal that Hutchinson's night came to an end.
"I didn't like the last two (goals). He played so very well (the other night), so I didn't pull him out of anger," said Maurice, adding of the turnover: "That shot should never have happened."
Ehlers cut the deficit to two at 4:49 of the third, as part of a 17-7 run in shots in that fateful final frame.
Video: POSTGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers
"I felt good out there," Ehlers said "I used my speed the whole game and that's what I need to do every single game, and I don't think I've been doing that.
"It's good to get some change every once in a while. Paul wanted to change things up at the end of the first period and I think I went in and used my speed there very well. I created time and space for (Scheifele) and (Wheeler), so hopefully we can keep building on that."
The Jets have the day off tomorrow before returning to action on Tuesday against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
LATE HITS: Tyler Myers (lower body) did not play after seeing a season-high 27:19 of ice time Friday in Colorado. Paul Postma drew in as a result and was paired with Toby Enstrom on the blue line. Myers is day-to-day. … Drew Stafford, who is also day-to-day, will not play Tuesday vs. Washington, according to Maurice.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com