ST. PAUL, Minnesota – In a matter of minutes, it went from an evenly played divisional matchup to one the Winnipeg Jets faced an insurmountable deficit.
The Minnesota Wild scored four in a little more than eight minutes in the second period Tuesday, leading them past the Jets 5-3 at Xcel Energy Center.
Thomas Vanek (4:30 and 9:54), Erik Haula (5:59) and Chris Porter (12:44) provided the goals on just 11 shots.
Bryan Little and Nino Niederreiter traded markers in the first period before things unravelled for the Jets. Blake Wheeler scored a power-play goal midway through the third (snapping an 0-for-16 drought with the man advantage), and Little added another with less than eight minutes left to round out the scoring.
The late push just wasn’t enough.
Ondrej Pavelec was pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots. Michael Hutchinson came on relief, posting 15 saves in a little more than 30 minutes of work.
“You look at the three goals they got and they were all guys that got in behind us. You can’t have that,” Andrew Ladd said. “It’s on the forwards to give the D the support they need to be aggressive, and on the other side, we need to make some better reads. It’s something we’ll work at and I’m sure we’ll be better next game."
The Jets were the better of the two teams early on, but the home team struck first.
Niederreiter put the Wild up 1-0 at 3:44 when he buried a centering pass from Mikko Koivu. Uncovered in tight, the Swiss forward got a couple cracks at it before blading the puck over Pavelec’s left arm at the lip of the blue paint.
After a dominant few shifts offensively, the Jets brought the game back on even terms at 11:45. Little’s impressive, one-handed deflection of a Dustin Byfuglien bomb pointed the puck through the wickets of the goaltender, tying the score on their eighth shot of the period.
Chris Thorburn went toe-to-toe with Kurtis Gabriel – who was making his NHL debut – early in the middle frame. Stunning the rookie with a couple late shots, Thorburn took the decision with a powerful takedown.
Unfortunately for the Jets, the fisticuffs failed to generate any momentum.
Three goals in just 5:24 made this an incredibly difficult uphill climb for the Jets.
The Wild took a 2-1 lead at the four-and-a-half minute mark as Vanek raced in alone, going bar down with a missile from the top of the circle. Eighty-nine seconds later, a shorthanded goal by Haula – again, top shelf on a breakaway – put the Wild up by two.
“Breakaways,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said about what went wrong. “They got in behind us twice. We got beat 1-on-1.
“We’ll build on our first two periods. That’s how we’ll get better.”
Vanek made it a 4-1 lead at 9:54, beating the defence, driving the net and lifting a shot over the goalie’s blocker hand.
“We gave up some chances and they scored on them,” Little said. “We can’t rely on our goalies to make those kind of saves for us.”
Hutchinson came on at this point, but the Wild weren’t done. Porter’s first of the season put the Wild up 5-1 on just the second shot No. 34 faced.
“They were able to make good shots on their scoring chances,” Hutchinson said. “Pavs made some great saves and it takes a really good shot to beat him. During the course of a game it’s kind of unlucky from a goalie’s point of view if they go bar in once, but when it happens three times, those are just good shots.”
After Wheeler cut the deficit to three, Little scored his second of the night with less than eight minutes to play to truly make a game of it, outracing the defenceman and shovelling home his own rebound past Dubnyk.
“We had some shifts where we got back to our game and worked hard, and we got rewarded for it,” Little said. “I don’t know why it took us to get down 5-1 to start playing like that, but that’s the way we’ve got to play, with some desperation. It’s early in the season, but these are big points against teams in our division.”
The Jets continue their four-game road trip on Thursday in Dallas.
LATE HITS: Andrew Copp returned to the lineup tonight after missing the past four games with an undisclosed injury. Copp finished with 8:18 of ice time alongside Nic Petan and Chris Thorburn.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com