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Jets start fast, then hold off Blue Jackets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets scored three goals in the first 10:48 and outlasted the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-4 at MTS Centre on Thursday.

Mathieu Perreault had a goal and three assists for the Jets (14-13-2), who have won their past three games at home but are still sixth in the Central Division. Mathieu Perreault had a goal and three assists while Winnipeg rookie goaltender Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves and won for the fourth time in as many NHL starts.

The line of Perreault, Drew Stafford and Mark Scheifele combined for nine points (three goals, six assists).

"I think they're capable of having a night like this, but they haven't been giving up anything [defensively] to do it, so that's what is encouraging about them," Jets coach Paul Maurice said.

Columbus is 1-3-2 in its past six games and at 11-17-2 is last in the overall NHL standings. The Blue Jackets outshot the Jets 17-9 in the third period and got within 5-4 on two late goals by Cam Atkinson before Blake Wheeler hit the empty net with 44.3 seconds remaining. Alexander Wennberg had three assists for the Blue Jackets, and Ryan Johansen had two.

As the Jets prepared to for a game at the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, Maurice did not dwell on the Blue Jackets' late push.

"We'll fix the problems and keep working on them," Maurice said. "There are no style points in the NHL."

Blue Jackets goaltender Curtis McElhinney started in place of Sergei Bobrovsky, who went on injured reserve Thursday with a lower-body injury that is expected to keep him out of the lineup for three weeks. With Bobrovsky in net, the Blue Jackets had allowed 12 goals in their past seven games.

However, McElhinney endured a rocky beginning in his first start since Nov. 19.

The Jets scored on three of their first five shots. Scheifele scored his 11th goal of the season 27 seconds into the game, and Adam Lowry's first made it 2-0 at 2:22. Dustin Byfuglien followed with a power-play goal at 10:48.

"It wasn't the performance nor anywhere close to the result that my team needed from me in order to put a winning effort forward," said McElhinney, who finished with 29 saves. "The goal support was there. On my end, it wasn't good enough."

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella had wanted a much better effort from his players after a 3-2 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, a game that Tortorella said "totally embarrassed" him. He also disputed any thought that falling behind early inhibited the Blue Jackets' plan to atone for the loss to the Kings.

"That shouldn't hinder that at all," Tortorella said. "That shouldn't put us into a situation where we don't generate much for quite a bit of that first half of the game."

Atkinson said the Blue Jackets wanted to pressure Hellebuyck early; however, they were outshot 10-5 in the first period and 26-12 through two periods.

"It seemed like he might have been a little shaky at first, but we've got to take advantage of that," Atkinson said.

But Columbus eventually pushed back. Bonne Jenner's 12th goal at 15:38 of the first period cut the margin to 3-1, and Scott Hartnell's power-play goal with 56 seconds to go in the second period got the Blue Jackets within a goal.

However, Stafford scored his 10th of the season when he poked a rebound through McElhinney's pads 4:03 into the third period to give Winnipeg a 4-2 lead. Perreault's fourth of the season at 7:36 made it 5-2.

"In the second [period], I think I got into a pretty good groove there," McElhinney said. "I felt pretty good. It would have been nice to come out in the third and shut it down, but there were just some mistakes [on my part] that are unacceptable at this point right now for us."

Atkinson beat Hellebuyck with a wrist shot at 13:21 and scored again with 1:44 remaining and McElhinney on the bench for an extra attacker before Wheeler's empty-netter sealed the win.

"Give them credit for not quitting," Perreault said of the Blue Jackets. "We [twice] had a three-goal lead, and they came back and almost made it a tie game."

But Tortorella did not take much solace in the Blue Jackets' third-period push.

"We lost the game. We lost the game," he said. "We can break it down all you want as far as a push here, a push there. We didn't play well enough to win.

"I can go into it all night long, but I'd rather not do it right now. We didn't play well enough. We had a push at the end, but we didn't play well enough to win. In all areas. I thought we were just a little too light on the puck. We lost too many battles. The fourth [Winnipeg] goal, we had a chance to get it out. We turn it over."

Bobrovsky had started the past nine games before his injury. It was McElhinney's fourth start since Oct. 20. Having relieved Bobrovsky late in the third period in the loss against Los Angeles, it was also the first time that McElhinney had appeared in back-to-back games since Oct. 17-20.

But McElhinney said that rust was not an issue for him, especially as a long-time NHL backup.

"[Coming back] shows some resiliency from the guys and whatnot. Any time they score four goals, you should be winning games. There needs to be a better effort on my part."

Hellebuyck, 22, has won his first four NHL starts, tying a franchise record set by Kari Lehtonen in the 2003-04 season. But Hellebuyck, who has a 1.71 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage, said he has more work to do.

"I definitely have to tighten some things up on my end, but I thought we played a good game," Hellebuyck said. "Just getting pieces of pucks is not enough in this League."

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