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Jets top Flames in home opener

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets got the result they wanted in their home opener against the Calgary Flames on Friday, even if they didn't follow their coach's blueprint.

Paul Maurice spoke to his players in the morning about the importance of pouncing on opponents, using the home crowd to their advantage and making MTS Centre a tough place for opponents. Instead the Jets had to overcome a slow start and needed a tiebreaking goal by defenseman Dustin Byfuglien with 1:28 remaining in the third period to earn a 3-1 win.

The Jets have outscored their opponents 8-2 in the third period of their five games this season.

"We've built in games," Maurice said after the Jets improved to 4-1-0. "We seem to get a little more confidence [as games progress]."

Byfuglien broke a 1-1 tie when he forced an offensive-zone turnover by Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau, broke into the Calgary zone and cut off the left boards before backhanding a shot that slipped past goaltender Karri Ramo. Calgary's Bob Hartley used his coach's challenge, contending that the play was offside, but the goal stood.

"I knew I was onside because I had the puck," Byfuglien said. "I just went down the wall and tried something I don't do very often and it happened to work."

Maurice credited his 6-foot-5, 260-pound defenseman with helping to key the Jets' resurgence in the second half of the game and marveled at the winning goal.

"It's so unusual for a man so big to be able to do some of the things that he can do at high rates of speed," Maurice said.

Blake Wheeler hit the empty net 35 seconds later to complete the win. He has points in each of Winnipeg's five games and leads the Jets with seven points, including three goals.

The goal spoiled a strong bounce-back performance by Ramo, who allowed five goals in his one previous start this season. The 29-year-old made 27 saves and held the Flames in the game after the Jets had pushed back, but blamed himself for the winning goal.

"[The game-winning goal was] one of those plays that happen [countless] times per game," Ramo said. "Those things happen. [Byfuglien] did what you're supposed to do. If you put the puck to the net, something always happens. It was a lousy play by me."

"That's how it goes sometimes. We have to move on."

The Flames (1-3-0) took a 1-0 lead on Mikael Backlund's goal 3:38 into the game. But the Jets, who began a six-game homestand after returning from a 3-1-0 season-opening road trip, settled down in the second period and smothered any semblance of a Calgary attack, holding the Flames to four shots in a 31:06 stretch.

Calgary finished with 20 shots, nine after the first period.

Bryan Little, who had two goals in a 4-1 win against the New York Rangers on Tuesday, tied the game midway through the second period. Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made 19 saves and has a .936 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average in three starts this season.

Calgary scored on its second shot of the game. Pavelec stopped left wing Sam Bennett's wraparound attempt, but Backlund broke through a crowd of players in the crease and shoved the loose puck into the net. From there the Flames quieted the Jets and took seven of the final nine shots of the period.

The Jets tied the game 8:12 into the second period with some help from an opportune bounce. Wheeler's pass into the slot deflected off Little's skate and bounced past Ramo. Little has three goals in two games after going without a point in his first three.

"Once we tied [the game] in the second period, we found a new gear and controlled the play a lot more," Little said.

Winnipeg dominated the remainder of the period. Calgary managed one shot on goal in the final 10:39 of the second period, and wasn't credited with a third-period shot until 11:06.

"Sometimes it's hard to get a feel for that, now it was up and down the ice, but it did get loose in the second for both teams," Maurice said. "There were more odd-man rushes. It wasn't from a casualness in the game; it was coming up and down hard."

"[Calgary] worked hard too. They blocked an awful lot of shots. There wasn't anything easy. I think in the first period for us, we kind of got behind it a little bit with our offensive game trying to slow the game down. [We] got out of that mindset early in the second period and were pretty good after that."

A six-game homestand this early in the season could set up the Jets well if they can continue their strong start. The St. Louis Blues visit MTS Centre on Sunday for the Jets' first Central Division game this season.

The Flames started 5-3-1 last season and went on to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a home game against the winless Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, the slow start this season has created some degree of urgency.

"Last [season] was good for us to get it going right away," Backlund said. "We've got to find a way to get back to that."

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