WINNIPEG – Only the struggling Winnipeg Jets stood between the Detroit Red Wings and a perfect trip through Western Canada.
But the Jets overcame Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard's 43-save evening and used two third-period goals to earn a 4-2 win Monday night at MTS Centre. The victory ended the Jets' three-game skid and Detroit's three-game winning streak.
"There were a lot of really good things in that game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "It was fun to watch our team play that way."
Winnipeg's Matt Halischuk broke open a 2-2 game 4:27 into the third period with his first goal of the season. Halischuk took Michael Frolik's behind-the-net pass and rammed a shot from the low slot through Howard's pads. Jets captain Andrew Ladd finished off the Red Wings, interrupting a nine-game run without a goal by shoveling a shot under Howard with 9:03 remaining.
"We found a way to come back 2-2 going into the third," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "But then we didn't take care of the puck enough, and in the end that cost us the game."
The Jets' third line featuring Halischuk and Frolik flanking rookie center Mark Scheifele threatened the Red Wings throughout the game in front of a strong night from Jets goaltender Al Montoya.
"Guys were prepared," said Scheifele (two assists), "and I think it showed from the start of the game to the end. It was definitely big to get a lot of shots. We've got to stay confident, but we know it's just one game."
Frolik and Bryan Little added the Jets' other goals, while Zetterberg and Danny DeKeyser tallied for Detroit. Little scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season for the Jets in his 16th game, passing his 48-game output that he posted last season. Zetterberg's team-best eighth goal 7:09 into the second period broke a 1-0 Winnipeg lead.
DeKeyser then collected his first NHL goal 2:56 after Zetterberg's goal with the Red Wings shorthanded, putting Detroit up 2-1, its only lead of the game. But Frolik tied the game late in the second period off a feed from Scheifele to send the teams into the second intermission at 2-2.
"Five-on-five, we did a great job against a very offensive team, a very skilled team," Montoya said. "It just goes to show that we can play against anyone on any given night.
"This is a big statement win for us. Whatever it means out there, who cares? For us in this locker room, it's huge."
The Red Wings (9-5-2) finished a four-game tour of Western Canada with their first trip to Winnipeg since they ended the city's original NHL run on April 28, 1996, in a first-round series against the original Jets. Detroit had taken one-goal decisions against the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames on this trip before blowing out the Edmonton Oilers 5-0 on Saturday.
"They played better than we did," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of his team, which was playing its third game in four nights. "I think from start to finish they were the better team. We didn't look like we had much energy. We didn't skate well. We didn't execute well."
Before meeting the Red Wings, the Jets (6-8-2) had one win over their past seven games and three wins in nine home dates this season. Winnipeg's goaltending and 26th-ranked power play (locked in a 1-for 37 slump over 11 games) have headlined the team's struggles, but injuries to much of its blue line and a lower-body injury that sidelined Evander Kane also compounded the Jets' problems.
But Winnipeg received goaltending from Montoya that countered Howard's work. Montoya made his third start of the season for the Jets and continued his strong play, stopping 26 shots. Montoya relieved Ondrej Pavelec this past Saturday in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and played well enough in mop-up duty to earn himself another start.
"I thought he played like our team," Noel said of Montoya. "He did the right thing at the right time, made the right saves. I thought he had a good night. He has played that way this year, and did it again."
In his only other home start this season, Montoya shut out the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 13. But Noel and Montoya shied away from any talk of a goaltending controversy in Winnipeg.
"We'll look at it and assess it and consider it," Noel said of the possibility of starting Montoya when the Jets face the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday. Montoya is a Chicago native.
Howard returned to Detroit's net after Petr Mrazek gave him a night off in Edmonton. But Winnipeg shooters pushed Howard back into action quickly, and he saw 31 shots by the end of the second period.
Howard guided the Red Wings through an early barrage of Winnipeg shots. Winnipeg held an 11-2 shots advantage by the middle of the period, but Howard gloved Zach Bogosian's point blast, stopped Ladd's breakaway, and cut off Olli Jokinen's in-close chance with another glove save. Later in the period with the Red Wings on their first power play, Howard put a right pad on Halischuk's drive to the net.
"Our penalty kill (6-for-6) and our goaltending gave us a really good chance here," Babcock said. "But we did nothing with the puck. We didn't have them under pressure at any time. It was an easy night for their goaltender."
Little solved Howard with a minute remaining in the first, taking advantage of Kyle Quincey's stumble at the Winnipeg line and taking the puck in alone on Howard before squeezing it through the pads for a 1-0 lead.
Montoya continued his strong play into the second period before Zetterberg scored. Zetterberg drove down the left boards and directed a hard pass into the slot that caromed off Winnipeg defenseman Grant Clitsome's skate and into the net to tie the game 1-1.
Detroit capitalized on Winnipeg's struggling penalty kill, driving the Jets into their own zone, winning a left-circle draw and working the puck back to DeKeyser, who ripped a shot from the high point past Montoya at 10:05 for the Red Wings' first lead.
The Jets' third line clicked late in the second period when Scheifele sped down the right side before connecting with Frolik, who slipped a low shot under Howard from the bottom of the slot at 17:04.
"They just seem to have some chemistry, that's the first thing you seem to notice," Noel said of the Halischuk-Scheifele-Frolik line. "They're reliable defensively. They're just a good, dependable line that has played well."