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Tarasenko scores twice to help Blues defeat Jets

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – Like it did with every shift all last year, the swelling rivalry between the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues intensified Sunday.

There’s no play fighting here – not in the Central Division, where a moderately successful .500 record is just good enough for last place.

In one of the most intense games of the new campaign, the Blues prevailed 4-2 in a matinee slugfest. Vladimir Tarasenko broke a 2-2 tie with 10:10 left in the third period, while Carl Gunnarsson added one late, helping the Blues to victory.

Tarasenko scored twice, while Brian Elliott made 27 saves. Scottie Upshall rounded out the scoring for St. Louis. Mathieu Perreault and Drew Stafford had power-play goals for the Jets, while Ondrej Pavelec made 37 saves in a losing effort.

With an assist in the second period, Blake Wheeler has now recorded at least a point in each of the Jets’ first six games this season. The 29-year-old has three goals and five helpers, making this the hottest start of his NHL career.

“It’s pretty darn close to every game we’ve played against these guys since I’ve been here,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Very physical, lots of talk on the ice and great intensity.”

The Jets were all over the Blues early on, tallying 10 of the first 13 shots and five of the seven official chances before the play levelled out. Elliott was up to the challenge, however, stopping all 12 of the Jets’ first-period shots, including the half-dozen generated by the Perreault-Scheifele-Ehlers line.

“I liked our start,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “We were on top of it in the first period and after that, we were just off a little bit. We weren’t able to sustain as much pressure as we would have liked those last two periods. … We were trying to get something, but we just couldn’t get that shift to get the momentum turning.”

“We had some plays that were there, and we didn’t make (them),” Maurice added. “I want them to talk a bit more and get a little quicker with those kinds of things.”

Pavelec was far less busy at the other end early on, but the things picked up in the bottom half of the opening 20. Late in a Blues power play, the veteran kicked out the left pad to deny Troy Brouwer in the slot. Then, with under a minute left in the period, he came up with a sensational glove save off Kyle Brodziak, stretching out and robbing the first-year Blue with a desperate effort along the goal line.

“He made two or three really spectacular saves out there then (he) was very good after that,” Maurice said. “That’s the way he’s looked all year for us.”

The chances kept coming for the Jets, who peppered Elliott early in the second after Carl Gunnarsson was penalized for high sticking. But despite their best efforts, they couldn’t get one to go. Not yet, anyway.

The Blues opened the scoring at 3:27, as Tarasenko cut to the middle and fired a shot top shelf on Pavelec.

But the Jets got it right back, tying the game with a power-play goal a minute later. Wheeler centered the puck out to Perreault at the bottom of the near circle, and No. 85 made no mistake, slamming a hard shot past Elliott for the equalizer.

Upshall put the visitors back on top as he shovelled home a loose puck in the blue paint midway through, but that, too, had a short shelf life, thanks to the red-hot Jets power play.

Stationed up top, Ehlers walked the line before snapping a 40-footer bar down on Elliot, making it a 2-2 game at 12:27. The goal was later credited to Stafford, after it was determined he got a stick on it at the lip of the crease.

“The way the game went with the penalties, it was tough to gauge the momentum either way,” Stafford said. “It could have gone either way, but unfortunately it went their way tonight. … It’s a long season and when we’re going to be seeing them quite a few more times, so every time we see them we expect that kind of game – physical, in-your-face and not a lot of space to make plays.

“The way that the special teams took over is unfortunate, because I think we can match up with them pretty well 5-on-5 and control the play.”

Added Maurice: “What was different about this game and maybe some of the others is that there wasn’t a lot of flow to it. The puck dropped and it was on. Lots of penalties called, lots of penalties that could have been called.

“It was that kind of game.”

Dustin Byfuglien nearly gave the Jets their first lead with 55 seconds left in the middle frame, but his quick shot went off the crossbar and out of play.

Shots on goal were even at 23 apiece after 40 minutes.

Tarasenko put the Blues up 3-2 midway through the third, rifling a shot far side from the top of the circle. Then, with Byfuglien off for charging, Gunnarsson iced it with a power-play goal late, redirecting Colton Parayko’s point shot to back of the net.

The Blues outshot the Jets 17-6 in the final frame of the penalty-filled contest.

The Jets finished the night 2-for-7 with the power play, while the Blues went 1-for-6 with the man advantage.

“The disparity in the third period,” Maurice said, pausing briefly, “…we were in the box and we ended up chasing.”

LATE HITS: Anthony Peluso dressed in his first game of the season tonight, playing just under five minutes in place of rookie Nic Petan.

– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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