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Thin on defense, Jets find way past Bruins

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Defense has carried the Winnipeg Jets this season, and even a mangled blue line could not stop them in a 2-1 win against the Boston Bruins on Friday.

Evander Kane and Mathieu Perreault scored for the Jets (17-10-6), and goalie Michael Hutchinson, who began his professional career in the Boston organization, made 30 saves for Winnipeg. Hutchinson fended off several in-close scoring chances in making 16 third-period saves.

Jets coach Paul Maurice has stressed a commitment to defensive structure that has paid off in his first full season in Winnipeg. Its 2.25 goals-against per game began the game ranked fourth in the NHL.

However, the Jets are without four regular defenseman because of long-term injuries: Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom and Mark Stuart each is out with a lower-body injury, and Jacob Trouba has an upper-body injury.

Dustin Byfuglien set up the game-winning goal and led Winnipeg’s makeshift defense with 27:04 of ice time. Byfuglien took a high stick late in the third period that the Jets do not believe is a serious injury. Since returning full-time to the Winnipeg blue line Dec. 5, Byfuglien has two goals and four assists.

Jets defenseman Jay Harrison had an assist in his first game since being acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and played 20:10, the third-most among Winnipeg defensemen.

"The [defensemen] we have here are all quality players, and they're doing the job right now," Kane said. "It's good to see, and it just adds more depth when [the four injured players] get back."

The Jets have won two of three games in their four-game homestand that ends Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"We can play better," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "I don't think we can try harder."

Defenseman Torey Krug scored for the Bruins (16-14-3), and Tuukka Rask made 25 saves. The Bruins wrapped up a 1-1-1 road trip through the Central Division and have two wins in their past nine games (2-5-2).

"I'm not happy," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We could have come back with five [points] out of six. If we're happy with that, we're going to be on vacation at the beginning of April. We're going to need more than that. We’ve got to string some wins together.

"We’re making costly mistakes," Julien said. "Costly mistakes end up in our net. The lack of wanting to put pucks at the net with purpose versus trying to be cute, which is not our team, is what we struggled with tonight."

Rask failed to control Jets defenseman Grant Clitsome's point shot, and it set up a 1-0 lead for Winnipeg 3:12 into the game. Kane grabbed the rebound and stuffed it into the net for his sixth goal of the season. He has a goal in back-to-back games after starting the season with four goals in his first 21.

"I can’t afford to make those mistakes [with] the way we’ve been scoring goals," Rask said.

The Jets went on to control the rest of the first period and outshot the Bruins 16-4.

"We didn’t have a good start, but the biggest thing for me is that we passed up on so many good shot opportunities," Julien said.

Boston scored on its sixth shot of the game early in the second period. Taking advantage of an ill-timed pinch inside the zone by Winnipeg, Krug finished an odd-man rush by Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg by pushing a rebound under Hutchinson at 4:49. The goal, Krug's sixth, gave him three goals in his past seven games.

The Jets went ahead when Byfuglien’s wrist shot through four players in front of Rask caromed off Perreault and into the net for a 2-1 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the second period. The goal was Perreault’s fifth and extended his point streak to six games (two goals, four assists).

The Bruins pressed a Winnipeg defense that looked overmatched at times late in the game and broke through to post their 16-shot third period. However, they could not beat Hutchinson again and have 10 goals in their past five games. Boston scored 3.15 goals per game last season; this season, the Bruins have 2.42 goals per game.

"Scoring goals," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "That’s what’s missing now. It’s tough to explain, but I think it’s the one thing we’re missing the most."

The Buffalo Sabres visit the Bruins on Sunday before a home game against the Nashville Predators sends Boston into the NHL holiday break.

Julien will be looking something much different from his players when the Sabres visit than what he saw against Winnipeg.

"We’ve got to bring our identity," Julien said of the Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and were a finalist in 2013. "Our identity is playing hard, putting pucks at the net, going to the net and banging away at the rebounds, kind of like what [Winnipeg] did offensively. Tonight our forwards didn’t do a very good job of that.

"We just need more guys to pick up their game here."

Byfuglien’s return to the blue line after what was a nearly year-long trial at forward continues to carry the Jets. He has played 26 or more minutes in five of the seven games since he stepped in as a defenseman.

"You can tell that [Byfuglien] is excited about playing [defense]," Jets right wing Blake Wheeler said. "He's playing great back there. It's his ability to read plays. He is almost like a free safety back there. He steps up and picks off a ton of pucks for us and creates a ton of turnovers.

"But the most impressive thing for me is just how hard he's playing defensively," Wheeler said. "He has maybe been our most important player this last stretch here, with all of the injuries we've had."

Byfuglien’s growth mirrors the rest of a Winnipeg team that finished 22nd, 24th and 26th in goals-against per game in each of the past three seasons, respectively.

But Maurice is not taking credit for the defensive improvement.

"It’s not like we have something different that [no other team] does," Maurice said. "You could find a team that is running the same defensive systems in all three zones.

"It is the compete level on this team," Maurice said. "It’s far less about the coaching, far more about what happens in that [dressing] room before the games."

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