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Stafford powers Jets to win against Avalanche

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

DENVER, Colorado – ‘Character win.’ Definition: That.

If there was ever a time to step up, dig deep and deliver a statement, this was it.

Simply put, the Winnipeg Jets were at their best in every way possible. The result, a 4-2 win over a division rival, but perhaps more importantly, a strengthening of the bonds in this one-of-a-kind brotherhood.

Even Nikolaj Ehlers got in on the action between the whistles, dropping Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie for his first-career fight, all in an effort to protect a teammate.

It was that kind of night. To borrow a phrase from the smiling head coach, everyone had a piece of it.

“I saw that (Blake Wheeler) was pushing with two other guys and I was just trying to help him out, a big guy like me,” Ehlers said with a smile.

Drew Stafford led the way offensively, scoring twice and adding an assist, while Michael Hutchinson made 32 saves.

“We played one hell of an offensive game and battled hard on the defensive side,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We were just on the puck. We didn’t give them any room to skate pucks out, and used our speed to contest every puck. … It was a game that we had to play a certain way and we did that.”

The Avalanche opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 5:39 of the first period. Just nine seconds into a Dustin Byfuglien penalty, Mikhail Grigorenko jumped a loose puck in tight, plunging it short side after the initial blast from Jarome Iginla was knocked down in front.

From there, the Jets worked their way back into it. They were quick to the puck, physical and fast, and were finally rewarded late in the period.

Andrew Ladd levelled the score with 1:53 left, giving the Jets a much-needed boost after falling behind for the second time in as many nights. Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov made the first save on a Byfuglien point shot, but Ladd was quick to the scene, following up on his rebound and banking a quick shot off the goalie’s left skate.

Ladd has now scored in three straight games after previously going 13 without one.

Shots on goal favoured the Jets 11-5 after an opening period that, compared to the one 24 hours earlier, was a complete reversal of fortune. The Jets were the better of the two teams – dominant, at times – recording two-thirds of the total even-strength shot attempts.

Stafford put the Jets up 2-1 with a beautiful shot at 2:54 of the second. Opening himself up at the near hash, No. 12 fired a shot over the blocker, with the unofficial assist going to Colorado defender Nick Holden, who inadvertently collided with his own goalie.

“Even on the goal Andrew scored on the power play the other night, that was a shot by Staff. He’s feeling it right now. You go back and watch the video and he fought hard for his game tonight. He played a real man’s game.”

Stafford has now taken over the team lead in goals with 16 on the year.

The Jets came oh-so-close to blowing it open not long after. Tyler Myers cranked a long shot in from the centre point, but it rang off both posts, keeping it a 2-1 game – but not for long. On a power play midway through, Stafford found the net once again, rifling a 35-foot wrister into the heart of the cage. The Avalanche ordered a review, but video proved there was no contact between Ladd and the mysteriously fallen ‘tender.

His challenge ineffective, an incensed Patrick Roy took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after giving the officials an earful.

“We need these points,” Stafford said. “For us to come out with an effort like we did tonight, that’s awesome. You saw some guys doing a few things that were maybe out of character, but it gets the guys going, it gets the bench going.”

Matt Duchene made it a one-goal game with 5:48 to play, banking a shot off Hutchinson from a sharp angle along the goal line.

Mathieu Perreault iced it less than 10 minutes into the third, first creating a odd-man rush before pulling up briefly in the slot to rifle a shot top shelf.

Tempers flares in the final few minutes, with multiple scrums breaking out, resulting in more than 40 minutes in penalties and a youngster’s first bout.

“That was outstanding,” Maurice said. “If you get an opportunity to watch that again, the best isn’t the fight – it’s the bench standing up to watch the replay on that. Good for him. He gets a little more room and gets to eat a little earlier in the food line. … I don’t think anyone had that in him but it’s out there now.”

– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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