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Penguins ground Jets 3-1

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG – Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been a major contributor to the Penguins' success during the Dan Bylsma era. On Friday night, he helped ensure that the coach's fourth anniversary became a happy occasion.

Fleury made 25 saves as the Penguins beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 at MTS Centre. He improved his career record against the Jets franchise to 15-5-0, including a 6-2-0 mark on the road. Fleury edged to within 95 seconds of a shutout before Andrew Ladd scored to make it 2-1, leaving him tied with Tom Barrasso for the franchise record at 22 shutouts.

"They came out strong," Fleury said of the Jets. "It was nice to see nobody panic. Everybody stayed calm and played within our system, and it paid off the end. The guys did a good job blocking shots and taking rebounds away."

Bylsma, who's 175-86-25 since taking over for Michel Therrien on Feb. 15, 2009, praised his goaltender's work for the Penguins, who improved to 10-5-0.

"I thought [Fleury] was extremely strong," Bylsma said. "He looked real solid."

Winnipeg's loss dropped its home record to 3-4-0 in a building with a reputation as a formidable challenge for visiting teams. The Jets (5-7-1) have lost three of their past four games. Winnipeg's third consecutive regulation at home ties their longest drought since March 2012.

"People are very ready for us," Jets coach Claude Noel said of the Jets' play on home ice. "They know the situation a lot more, so they're ready."

Craig Adams scored Pittsburgh's first and last goals, sandwiching James Neal's game-winner on a late 5-on-3 goal. Neal's goal, his team-leading 11th of the season, led a Pittsburgh power play that has connected in seven consecutive outings, going 10-for-27 in that stretch. Neal's 25 power-play goals since the start of the 2011-12 season are the most in the NHL. Defenseman Kris Letang picked up on assist on Pittsburgh's first goal, giving him six points over his past six games.

Adams helps anchor Pittsburgh's fourth line, and he earned praise from Bylsma in scoring his first two goals of the season. Adams tallied in the first period to provide a lead that the Penguins nursed deep into the third period, then added an empty-netter in the final minute.

"He played a highlight game tonight," Bylsma said of Adams. "He stepped in, had a fight there [with Winnipeg's James Wright], starts the game off with a great play. It's only fitting that at the end he gets the empty-net goal to seal the deal."

Pittsburgh's 7-2-0 mark moves the Penguins to within one win of the Chicago Blackhawks for the League lead in road victories. The Penguins are now 16-3-0 against the Winnipeg franchise in the clubs' past 19 meetings.

"We've done a couple of things really well this year," Bylsma said. "Starts and getting the lead have been one of those things. But we know it's going to be hard on the road. We know it's going to be difficult. We anticipated a tough place to play. Tonight was a case where we had to play defense, we were real tight and real solid in doing so, and we gutted out a tight game."

The win avenged a 4-2 loss to the Jets in the Penguins' last visit to Winnipeg on Jan. 25 -- one of only two road losses for Pittsburgh this season. The Penguins followed that loss by running off six wins in their next seven games before losing both ends of a home-and-home series with the New Jersey Devils last weekend.

"It's never easy," Neal said of playing in Winnipeg. "It's loud in here. They get one [goal], and the crowd is all over you."

The loss compounds what has been an unhappy week for the Jets. Noel ripped his club's play and effort over the first quarter of the season. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff shipped out disappointing offseason addition Alexei Ponikarovsky to New Jersey after only 12 games and added Eric Tangradi from Pittsburgh via trade to shake up his corps of forwards.

A stronger effort from the Jets softened Noel's feelings toward his club, which received 25 saves from Ondrej Pavelec after he returned to play from a two-game absence with the flu.

"I thought our guys played hard," Noel said. "Our guys played well. They gave us what they had. That's really what I was looking for."

For the second time in as many games, Winnipeg regained a major cog on the blue line. Zach Bogosian played for the first time this season after the 22-year-old defenseman underwent offseason wrist surgery. Dustin Byfuglien returned from a five-game absence Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

But just as Bogosian returned, Tobias Enstrom, who entered the night tied for the NHL scoring lead among defensemen, left the game after taking a heavy hit from Pascal Dupuis along the boards on his second shift of the game. Enstrom did not return, and the Jets did not disclose further information regarding his injury, though Noel did indicate that Enstrom's status was "not going to be day-to-day."

Enstrom's absence forced Bogosian to log 25:38 of playing time in his debut while Ron Hainsey's 28:17 was his second-highest total this season.

"They used me quite a bit, obviously, with [Enstrom] going down there," Bogosian said, "so I got into the game right away. I'm just glad I got the first game out of the way. Obviously I would have liked to come out with a win, but it feels good to be back out there.

"I thought we battled hard," Bogosian continued. "I'm not going to be one to tell other guys if they had an 'A' game or not. I think, like I said I thought we had a lot better effort than last game."

The Penguins scored first for the ninth time in as many road games and the 12th time in their first 15 games. Adams and his fourth line capitalized 3:19 into the game after Pavelec failed to secure Joe Vitale's left-side shot. Adams cut through four defenders and poked the loose puck behind Pavelec on his third try. Pittsburgh is 9-3-0 when scoring first.

"We always emphasize having a good start, getting pucks to the net and wearing [opponents] down," Neil said. "If that's what we need to do to win on the road, we're going to keep trying do [that]."

The clubs staged a physical first period in which they combined for 26 hits. Tangradi made his Winnipeg debut by leading all players with four hits in the opening 20 minutes.

Winnipeg threatened during the third period, but consecutive minors 24 seconds apart left the Jets down two men against the League's third-best power play. Neal teamed with Evgeni Malkin and fired a shot through Pavelec's pads with 4:49 remaining for a 2-0 lead.

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