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Stafford, Scheifele power Jets past Maple Leafs

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Drew Stafford scored twice to help the Winnipeg Jets defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 at MTS Centre on Wednesday.

The Jets, who were on a 3-8-1 slide, scored six unanswered goals to open a stretch of five of seven games on home ice with a victory. They played 10 of 14 games on the road in November, winning two (2-7-1).

Four third-period goals turned a 2-1 Winnipeg lead into a rout.

"With the [past] month that we had, we need to start winning some games," Stafford said. "We're kind of hitting the reset button at home here in December, starting fresh with this month."

"I think it's just mental, realizing that it's just one game. We've got to manage the highs and lows, the ebbs and flows, of this league. Just because we have one solid 60-minute effort doesn't mean the team we play next is going to hand it to us."

Each team started a 22-year-old American goaltender playing his second NHL game. Toronto's Garret Sparks made 29 saves, and Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck made 32.

The loss started a three-game Central Division road trip for the Maple Leafs (8-12-5), who visit the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. The six goals they allowed are a season high.

After a mid-November run of five wins in six games, Toronto has one victory in its past five (1-3-1).

The Jets (12-12-2) are off until Saturday, when they host the Washington Capitals.

Mark Scheifele had a goal and two assists, and Mathieu Perreault had two assists.

"I think it shows that if you play good defense and you stick to the system for a full 60 minutes, you're going to get rewarded, and that's what happened," Scheifele said. "We stuck to the system. We didn't stray from it at all."

The Jets recalled Hellebuyck from Manitoba of the American Hockey League on Nov. 22 after goaltender Ondrej Pavelec sustained a knee injury that will keep him out until at least January. Hellebuyck is 2-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage.

"It's all just numbers," Hellebuyck said. "It's going to be a season-long grind, and I've got to give my best while I'm here."

Sparks, who became the first Maple Leafs goalie to earn a shutout in his NHL debut in a 3-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, blamed himself for the third-period breakdown.

"Back to the drawing board," he said. "I didn't do the things that make me good tonight, and I paid for it. I expect to have all of those."

Toronto coach Mike Babcock pushed aside any talk that the loss was on Sparks.

"He shouldn't [take blame]," Babcock said. "He's a kid, and we were under siege in the third period."

"Let's be honest. We weren't good enough. Any way you look at it, that was the most speed we let come at us. We didn't slow them down or spend enough time in the offensive zone or do enough things to be successful."

The Maple Leafs took a 1-0 lead on Michael Grabner's first goal of the season 2:02 into the game. Stafford's goal 6:23 later evened the score, and Stafford made it 2-1 with a power-play goal with 2:28 to go in the period.

Two third-period goals broke open the game for the Jets. Scheifele scored at 1:25, and Andrew Ladd's goal 1:18 later made it 4-1. Bryan Little scored his 10th goal at 10:53, and Anthony Peluso's first goal of the season finished the scoring at 17:53.

The Maple Leafs thought they had pulled within 4-2 on a Nick Spaling goal at 3:22 of the third, but Jets coach Paul Maurice challenged the ruling on the ice, and it was determined after video review that Toronto forward Daniel Winnik interfered with Hellebuyck.

Grabner's goal, his first since April 10 when he was with the New York Islanders, ended his 23-game drought.

But Winnipeg's second line of Scheifele, Stafford and Perreault took over from there.

Stafford backhanded a pass from Scheifele on a 2-on-1 rush past Sparks for his first goal of the night. Leo Komarov's tripping penalty set up the Jets' second power play, and Stafford settled down the rebound of a Nikolaj Ehlers shot before putting it past Sparks for his ninth goal.

Winnipeg has scored on the man-advantage in three of the past four games, going 3-for-12 in that span.

The Jets finally broke down Sparks and the Maple Leafs in the third period.

"We had a fair amount of offense that didn't go for us in the second period, and I think it did in the third," Maurice said. "I thought that we generated enough in the second that maybe they became a little more cautious with us, and then we were able to open up the game in the third."

Perreault drove the Toronto net, and Scheifele put the loose puck past Sparks for the first of four Jets goals in the third. Ladd's seventh goal, on an off-wing rising wrist shot, followed at 2:43.

"We were in a good position after two [periods], and there were a couple of saves I could have made there early in the [third] period to keep it 2-1, and it's a different game if I do that," Sparks said.

"I lost my composure. I let that third goal get into my head, and the fourth one came quickly after that. It's one thing to let in a goal, and it's another thing to let it affect you further on in the game. One of my best assets, I would say, is my ability to put things behind me, and for whatever reason, I just didn't do that in the third period, and I paid for it.

"I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm going to take it for what it's worth. It's my second NHL game and it's a learning experience. I think if you ask anybody who comes into this league, it's a difficult league, and they're going to take their lumps at some point. I got it out of the way early, I guess."

Babcock welcomes a chance to atone for the loss with a visit to Minnesota.

"I think that's important when you play the way we did," he said. "We lose games, but we don't lose them like that."

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