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Stafford scores two goals in Jets' win against Wild

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- What could have been a clean, efficient win for the Winnipeg Jets turned into an adventure before they managed to hold off the Minnesota Wild in a 5-4 victory at MTS Centre on Sunday.

Drew Stafford scored twice and Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little each had a goal and an assist. Blake Wheeler had two assists and Michael Hutchinson made 26 saves for the Jets (5-2-1), who held a 5-1 lead early in the second period before Minnesota nearly rallied to tie the game.

"It's never over in [the NHL]," Wheeler said. "That's a good lesson to learn early on."

Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Justin Fontaine and Zach Parise scored for the Wild (5-2-1). Darcy Kuemper allowed four goals on 18 shots before being pulled in favor of Devan Dubnyk, who made 14 saves. After the game, Dubnyk said that he played through knee pain.

"I wanted to stay in there and see if we could have a chance to come back," Dubnyk said. "For a little bit there in the second period, it's hard to play when you're thinking about whether you're capable of certain movements, but we worked on it between the second and third."

"It's not something structural. I fully believe it's going to be fine going forward."

Kuemper and Hutchinson faced early pressure. The Wild and Jets combined for three goals in the first 3:28. Zucker scored 10 seconds into the game, the fastest goal in Wild history.

But Winnipeg took a 3-1 first-period lead on goals from Little, Ladd and rookie Nikolaj Ehlers. Stafford scored twice in the second period to help the Jets build a four-goal lead.

However, the Wild rally began when Koivu and Fontaine scored 38 seconds apart late in the second. Parise's goal with 9:19 left in the third pushed the Wild to within a goal.

Minnesota was playing its third game in the past four nights, but Parise shrugged aside any notion that fatigue was an issue.

"We got in here at a decent time [Saturday] night," Parise said. "We had a great second half of the game, so I don't think it was fatigue at all."

After Zucker's first goal of the season, the Jets pounced.

"It was a combination of turnovers and not having our [third forward] in position that just allowed them to attack with too much speed on our defensemen," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "I thought that our gap, we were backing up more than we normally do, so it was a combination."

Winnipeg's push started with Little's fourth goal, a tip of a bouncing puck, to make it 1-1 at 1:22. Ladd swept a rebound past Kuemper 2:06 later to grab a 2-1 lead. Wheeler assisted on each of the goals to extend his point streak to eight games, a career high and the longest in Jets history. He has four goals and seven assists over the stretch.

Ehlers put the Jets up 3-1 at 12:12 with an off-wing low wrist shot. Ehlers, the ninth pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, has scored in each of his past two games and has three goals and three assists in eight games.

"We were quick," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "We moved the puck well and were efficient with our offense. Pucks to the net."

Stafford finished Kuemper's night on his fourth goal, a right-circle snap shot 51 seconds into the second period.

"I need to be better," Kuemper said. "That wasn't good enough."

Stafford's second of the game made it 5-1 at 4:34 after he cut into the slot and slipped a shot between Dubnyk's pads. Maurice praised the third line of Stafford, shutdown center Adam Lowry and Alexander Burmistrov.

"We're going to be relied on for a little bit of secondary scoring," Stafford said. "So far, so good."

But Burmistrov's elbowing penalty late in the second period opened the door for Minnesota. Koivu extended his point streak to six games (three goals, three assists) 1:06 into the power play before Fontaine made it 5-3 at with his first goal of the season at 14:55.

Dubnyk fought through the discomfort while the Wild began the comeback. But Yeo plans to keep Dubnyk off the ice Monday before the Wild host the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

"I'm told that I'm not supposed to be worried about it," Yeo said. "I've been assured that it shouldn't be a problem. We'll make sure that he gets the treatment that he needs, and certainly we'll look at the big picture. If there is any risk of him damaging this further, then he won't be in the net."

Winnipeg will continue its six-game homestand Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings.

"We're a year older, a little bit more mature as a group," Wheeler said. "When the situation gets tough out there, you learn to rely on the system more than you rely on your individual talent, and I think that's what we leaned on [Sunday]."

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