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Little scores twice, Jets top slumping Rangers

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets continued the New York Rangers' road woes with a 5-2 win at MTS Centre on Friday.

The Rangers (19-11-4) have a seven-game road losing streak (0-5-2), including losses on consecutive nights at the Minnesota Wild and the Jets. Overall, New York is 3-8-2 in its past 13 games.

"At the end of the day right now, we have a few guys, not to say quite a few, [but] a lot of our top players are having a hard time with their game," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "It's my job as coach to help them find their game. It's as simple as that."

Bryan Little scored twice in the first period for Winnipeg (15-15-2), which had lost three of its previous four games. The Jets, who are last in the Central Division, moved within one point of the sixth-place Colorado Avalanche.

"We're not far off the game that we're supposed to be playing," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "It's going to be a tough run, but I like the way we're playing. I really do."

Playing for the second consecutive night, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves. An injury to Antti Raanta 13:50 into a 5-2 loss at Minnesota pressed Lundqvist into action on Thursday. He has allowed four or more goals in six of his past 12 games and has a .906 save percentage in that span.

"All I can say is that right now for us to win games I need to play my absolute best," Lundqvist said.

"For us to turn it around, we need everybody to step up, and I need to make the extra save. It just has been a lot of chances in front, and it's obviously something we're talking about to try to fix, and I need to come with the extra save. I keep saying it. We're really trying. We're working hard."

Rookie goaltender Connor Hellebuyck finished with 26 saves for the Jets.

Little scored twice in the first 7:34 of the game to tie Mark Scheifele for the team lead with 12 goals, four of them in two games against the Rangers.

Defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers each scored a goal, and forward Blake Wheeler had a career-high four assists (as well as a career-high four points) Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who was demoted to the third line in the third period after taking a penalty in the second, capped the win with an empty-net goal.

"I thought we were ready to play from the drop of the puck," Little said. "We were just quicker all over the ice."

J.T Miller and Dan Boyle scored for the Rangers.

After Little gave the Jets a 2-0 lead, the Rangers made it a one-goal game at 14:01 of the first period when Miller pushed a shot from Kevin Hayes past Hellebuyck. But Byfuglien's ninth goal, a right-point slap shot past Lundqvist at 17:31, restored Winnipeg's two-goal lead.

"We're playing from behind, and right now we're not doing a good job of doing that," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "We're opening ourselves up and trying to make plays. It's costing us."

Winnipeg controlled much of the second period and finished with a season-high 17 shots. However, Ladd's minor for unsportsmanlike conduct let the Rangers pull within a goal again. With Ladd in the penalty box, Boyle scored his third goal on an off-wing shot from the left circle at 14:12.

"We had a pretty energetic bench, and we knew [Boyle's goal] could have been a huge turning point for us," said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who skated a team-high 24:49.

However, Myers restored the Jets' two-goal lead 2:02 later with a snap shot under the crossbar for his third goal.

Forced to open up their game, the Rangers had to shift into more offensive approach.

"They [got] that next punch on us, and that puts us back down two, and that's when we have to push, take a couple more chances and [move] outside of our structure, try to be creative and make plays happen," McDonagh said. "That's not the style we want to play, playing from behind and playing a little bit run-and-gun.

"There's a lot of frustration, a lot of mind-racing as far as what you can do better and it's not a good situation to be in. A lot of what-ifs. What if I did this? What if we made this play? That's when you get yourself in trouble. We're not playing with the right confidence. We're not playing with the right demeanor that we need to."

Rangers center Derek Stepan returned after missing 10 games with broken ribs but struggled. He was minus-2 in 18:47 of ice time and lost 18 of 27 faceoffs, including a defensive-zone draw that resulted in Byfuglien's goal.

"We just need to essentially build our confidence back up and start from scratch," Stepan said. "There's no sense in beating it up anymore. I know this group has good character. One of our best qualities as a group is that we're tough on ourselves. We've got to loosen the grip a little bit and start building our team back up."

The Rangers play their final two games before the Christmas break at Madison Square Garden, beginning Sunday against the Washington Capitals, whose 48 points in 31 games lead the NHL.

"We have to do everything we can right now to win those two games and go into the break and then come back energized and positive about the game," Lundqvist said. "But let's focus on the [final] two here [before the break]."

Neither Maurice nor Ladd wanted to discuss Ladd moving to the third line, a change that Maurice said was "just some housekeeping."

"It's something that's between me and the coach," Ladd said. "I'm sure he wasn't happy about that penalty, and that's what happens."

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