WINNIPEG - In many ways, it was a complete reversal of fortune.
In their previous four meetings, the Jets allowed only five goals and were the dominant team in the win column as a result, grabbing all four on the strength of some timely goal scoring. This time, it was the Jets who were stifled offensively, while visitors finally found their touch around the Winnipeg net, as the Blackhawks took a 5-2 decision on Friday at MTS Centre.
The difference, Blake Wheeler says, was how the Jets were playing from behind for a good chunk of the night, despite pouring 30 shots on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.
"It's a different game when you're chasing against these guys. They're pretty good coming back [defensively] when they get a lead. They make it tough to really generate a whole lot and skate well. The other games, for the most part, we were playing ahead so we were able to do that to us, but they kind of flipped it on us."
It was a one-goal game for much of the night, but Duncan Keith put the Blackhawks ahead by two with 2:59 to play before a pair of empty-netters turned an otherwise close game into a lopsided contest on the scoreboard late in the third period.
Adam Lowry scored late to make a bit closer, but the damage had been done.
The Blackhawks' trio of Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov combined for seven points (3G, 4A) in the victory. Bryan Little had the other goal for the Jets, while Connor Hellebuyck stopped 31 of 34 in an all-around excellent performance to give his team a chance.
The Jets have now lost three straight, but will look to snap the skid on Saturday when the Tampa Bay Lightning make their only visit to Winnipeg this season.
"We're desperate for points right now and we need to get on a roll. We're all glad to put this one behind us and try to get a win tomorrow."
Trailing 1-0 entering the middle frame, the Jets evened things up just 1:43 in. Crawford made the initial save on Toby Enstrom's long bomb from the left point, but Little, who made a great play as he contended with the sprawling netminder, banged it home at the side of the net as he tumbled to the ice.
Video: CHI@WPG: Little uses slick hands to bury a rebound
With nine goals in his last 10 games, Little is now up to 16 on the year in this, his 34th game.
Patrik Laine picked up the second assist.
"I thought we had a bit of a slow start," Little said. "They came out really hungry and had a lot of the play early in the game, and got that goal. I thought we did a good job in the second and third battling back and getting our chances and making it a close game, but we just couldn't generate a lot with the goalie (pulled)."
Video: POSTGAME | Bryan Little
Slowly, Chicago took back the game and at 12:16 after applying some pressure in the offensive zone, the enemy's efforts paid off. Panarin hammered a shot into the pads after getting a great pass from Kane, but Anisimov was there to clean up the rebound, roofing a shot in tight as he fended off a check in the blue paint to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
The Jets came within inches of tying things up late in the period as a Wheeler shot snuck through the wickets, but Brent Seabrook hurried to the scene and swiped the puck off the goal line.
"Right now we're trying to generate offence, but not do it at the cost of trading chances," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "(The Blackhawks) were good getting pucks to the net early, but then it became more even with what we were giving up."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
Kane opened the scoring for the Blackhawks with his 18th of the year, from Panarin, at 15:37 of the first period. Panarin jumped on a loose puck after Blake Wheeler fumbled it near the benches, took down the far side and fed Kane with a great pass to the right circle. Kane made no mistake, firing a one-timer low and off the near bar past Hellebuyck.
"The development of Patrick Kane's game has been so impressive the last two or three years," Maurice said. "Where it used to be about trading chances - and they like that because he's going to finish better than most - they compete hard now when they don't have the puck. That's a skill-set that you only see on a handful of guys. … Those two wingers (Kane and Panarin) are very elite."
Hellebuyck, who was making his first start since Jan. 26 in Chicago, was otherwise unbeatable in the period, stopping 15 shots in all, including 10 in the first 11 minutes.
He was, as Maurice alluded to during one of his off-day media sessions, more aggressive in the net, challenging shots and showing greater confidence in his ability.
"I felt good," Hellebuyck said. "I'm just going to go out and play my game, and I'm not going to change it. I'm going to get back to what makes me, me."
Maurice could not confirm if Hellebuyck would get the start again on Saturday, but he did say it was a possibility.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com