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Jets rally past Penguins in Crosby's Winnipeg debut

by Patrick Williams /

WINNIPEG -- The hockey citizenry here had to wait more than a season for a live sampling of Sidney Crosby's game, but it was their hometown Winnipeg Jets who stole the show at sold-out MTS Centre on Friday night.

Crosby played his first NHL game in Winnipeg and provided the locals with one of his patented offensive efforts in the first period -- he scored twice to give the Pittsburgh Penguins an early lead.

But the Jets took center stage after that. Three second-period goals erased the Crosby-built lead and powered the Jets to a 4-2 win.

"It's a fun place to play," said Crosby, who missed both visits last season due to injury. "It's a loud crowd."

But the first period marked the extent of Crosby's fun for the evening. Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd scored for the Jets to support a 33-save performance by Ondrej Pavelec. Blake Wheeler finished off the Penguins by hitting the empty net with 65 seconds left.

"They have really good players that are going to make you pay," Wheeler said of Pittsburgh's fast start. "We fixed a few things, played with some more intensity in the second period and got ourselves back in the game.

"The biggest thing there were was no panic," Wheeler continued. "There was no yelling on our bench. No four-letter words thrown around. It was very calm on our bench from our coaching staff to all of our players. We were really comfortable and confident."

The Jets won just for the third time in their past 18 games against the Penguins; Pittsburgh scored eight goals against Winnipeg in the previous two meetings.

"I thought that we really bounced back after the first 15 minutes of the game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "This is a fairly daunting task when you're 2-0 after 20 [minutes] and not sure how it's going to turn out. We just focused on the task and our goal really was to win the second period and go from there."

The Penguins arrived in this snowy city Thursday afternoon still smarting from a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their home opener Wednesday night after two season-opening wins last weekend. Pittsburgh plays five of its first seven games on the road, with this weekend's two-game sojourn moving on to Ottawa for a game Sunday.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma cited long shifts in the three second-period breakdowns leading to Winnipeg goals, but he found more to be pleased with than he did in the 5-2 loss Wednesday.

"I think this game was different in the mindset in which we played and how we played," Bylsma said.

Tomas Vokoun, acquired last summer to upgrade the Penguins' goaltending with incumbent Marc-Andre Fleury, made his second start of the season and stalled several Winnipeg attempts to sustain offensive pressure in the first period. Vokoun finished with 28 saves.

"We probably forced things a little bit," Crosby said. "They definitely worked harder. We didn't help ourselves with some of the mistakes that we made."

Crosby scored for the second time in as many games with a goal 4:26 into the first period. Chris Kunitz outmuscled Byfuglien and Wheeler for a loose puck along the left boards and poked it to Crosby in the left circle. He took the feed and snuck it inside Pavelec's right post for a 1-0 lead, marking the fourth time in as many games this season that the Penguins opened the scoring.

Winnipeg fans -- and a good portion of the Jets' defense -- then watched Crosby expand Pittsburgh's lead to 2-0 later in the first period. Crosby drifted into the Winnipeg zone, cruised into the low slot past defenseman Mark Stuart and backhanded a shot that trickled through Pavelec's legs with 5:02 remaining.

"When [we] get up two goals," Brandon Sutter said, "that's the start that we want."

Crosby's two goals moved him past Ron Francis for fourth place on the franchise's all-time points list. The two-goal game was the 50th of his career; the multi-point game, Crosby's second this week, is his 15th in 23 games against the Winnipeg franchise.

Winnipeg responded in the first 70 seconds of the middle period. Wheeler distributed a pass through heavy slot traffic that reached Kane, who lifted a shot over Vokoun.

Vokoun's Czech counterpart, Pavelec, rebounded from the first period and held Winnipeg in the game under heavy Pittsburgh pressure in the second period's first eight minutes. Pavelec made three point-blank stops on Evgeni Malkin, who tortured the Jets last season with three goals and eight assists in three games.

"I thought that Pavelec was outstanding in the second period," Noel said.

Pavelec's work help set up Winnipeg's comeback. The Jets made the Penguins pay for Malkin's offensive-zone hooking minor during a power play halfway through the second period when Byfuglien ripped a shot over Vokoun's right shoulder from just inside the blue line at 13:35.

Late in the period, Bryan Little wrangled a loose puck off a Pittsburgh defensive-zone giveaway to help set up Winnipeg's go-ahead goal. Little charged through the bottom of the left circle before backhanding a cross-slot pass to Ladd, who pounded the puck past Vokoun with 2:06 to go.

From that point on, the Jets showed little of the panic that marked so many of their performances last season. Other than James Neal hitting a post late in the game, Pittsburgh struggled to generate much third-period momentum.

"It's only four games," Pavelec explained, "but that's a big difference from last year -- that the team is able to close the game and win it. That's a good sign."

During the offseason, the Jets made building offensive depth a major priority after spending much of last season as a one-line outfit. Byfuglien, Kane, Ladd, and Wheeler each also contributed an assist to goal with their goals

"Every single guy in the room contributed in some capacity," Kane said. "We didn't do it enough last year, and that's why we didn't make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. Tonight it was a good group effort, and when every guy on the ice makes a contribution to the game in some capacity, it creates a positive thing for your team."

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