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Jets get back on track with win against Stars

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Dallas Stars needed a win against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday to boost their fading Stanley Cup Playoff hopes.

The Jets needed two points to provide them some breathing room from the streaking Minnesota Wild.

Goals from Adam Lowry and Dustin Byfuglien and Michael Frolik broke open what had been a tie game and gave Winnipeg a 4-2 win at MTS Centre. The victory pushed the Jets 10 points ahead of the Stars in the Western Conference standings.

The Jets, who had lost two in a row, moved four points ahead of Minnesota for the first wild-card spot in the postseason race. The win started a four-game homestand for the Jets, who host the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

"In the second period, we were caught on our heels," said Lowry, who has three goals in four games against Dallas this season. "We were grasping for a little bit of a momentum change, and I was glad that I could provide that."

Dallas has lost four consecutive games (0-3-1) and remains six points behind the Wild for the second wild card. Minnesota has a game in hand on Dallas.

Bryan Little scored a first-period power-play goal for the Jets (31-20-11) before Erik Cole tied the game in the second period for the Stars (27-25-9). Jason Demers had a late goal for Dallas.

Jhonas Enroth made 21 saves after he returned from allowing all six third-period goals at Minnesota. Winnipeg's Michael Hutchinson had 26 saves and held the Jets in the game in the second period when Dallas controlled the tempo.

Jets coach Paul Maurice began the game with two more key injuries in their lineup. Right wing Blake Wheeler's consecutive-games played streak ended at 226 games because of a lower-body injury. Defenseman Ben Chiarot had surgery on Sunday after injuring himself in a fight during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday.

The Stars came to Winnipeg with a three-game losing streak and fresh off a 6-2 road loss against Minnesota on Sunday in which they surrendered six goals in the third period. In three of their past four games, the Stars have lost games against Winnipeg, Minnesota and the San Jose Sharks, three teams they're chasing for a wild-card spot.

Another issue is that Dallas is 5-12-6 against Central Division opponents this season. The Stars have picked up one win in their past five games against the Central (1-3-1).

"That's tough in a playoff race," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "No doubt, that's a hard one to swallow because we need points. We're desperate for points. We could have gotten points tonight the same as we could have gotten points in Minnesota."

Ruff said goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who has played in 50 of the Stars' 62 games this season, had "a little issue, a medical issue" in explaining decision to give Enroth his second consecutive start.

Winnipeg put Dallas in a 1-0 hole 5:05 into the game after Spezza took an offensive-zone penalty. Little scored his team-leading 24th goal with a left-side shot that snuck past Enroth. The Jets are 7-for-23 on the power play in their past six games.

Little leads the Jets with 50 points and has six goals in his past 11 games.

But the Stars began to take over the game in the second period.

"We knew that Dallas has a lot of offensive skill and that they were going to have a push at some time in the game," Hutchinson said. "They had a big push during the second period."

Dallas had outshot Winnipeg 8-0 when Cole tied it. Spezza moved the puck to the slot before sending a pass that Cole put past Hutchinson at 12:00 for his third goal in the past four games.

"[Dallas] is good at some things, chaos and speed," Maurice said. "When they get rolling around the outside, their back end gets so active that it's really difficult."

However, Lowry regained Winnipeg's lead 2:26 later when he drove to the net and slipped his rebound over Enroth's right shoulder for his seventh goal. Lowry's two shots were Winnipeg's first of the second period. The goal was Lowry's first in 12 games dating to Jan. 27.

The Stars held the Jets without a shot for 14:45 before Lowry’s goal.

Byfuglien's 15th goal off a breakaway 5:10 into the third period provided Winnipeg some insurance and made it 3-1.

"It's like Groundhog Day," Ruff said. "It's the same story. We dominated play. We had some point-blank [chances] that if you don't take advantage of that, you know you're going to make a mistake here or there, and we made a mistake.

"You've got to give them credit. When we made [a] mistake, they take took advantage of it. That was the counterpunch that hurt us."

Frolik scored an empty-net goal with 3:06 remaining, his 13th of the season. Frolik replaced Wheeler on the Jets' top line with Little and left wing Andrew Ladd and led all forwards with 21:24 of ice time.

The Stars begin a three-game homestand Friday against another Central Division opponent, the Colorado Avalanche. Each team has 63 points. Reversing their struggles against the Central Division will be critical for the Stars if they are to revive their playoff chances.

"It's a tough division, that's for sure," Cole said. "It's a tough game every night. Our struggles started early in the [season]. We had some pushes here and there, but we haven't been able to put together the [run] that we've needed."

Maurice received a strong rebound performance from Hutchinson, one of two rookies the coach is beginning to hand a heavier workload. The 24-year-old goaltender had allowed four goals in each of his past three starts.

"(Hutchinson) hasn't looked a whole lot different for me," Maurice said. "He really hasn't in most of his games. He prepares the same way and made some really big saves. The game got away from us in the second period, and he looked great."

Another rookie, Lowry, played 17:50, and Maurice will depend on him to play a key third-line center role as the Jets continue their playoff pursuit.

"We're looking for full value of the experience for Lowry right now," Maurice said. "We want him to take important faceoffs, and he is a really smart pro so he understands that we have two of our top-six [players] out of the lineup, [and] we're going to need offense from all of the different lines. He picks up on that."

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