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Wheeler powers Jets past Hurricanes

by Kurt Dusterberg /

RALEIGH, N.C. -- One year ago, the NHL looked a long way off to Michael Hutchinson. As a member of the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, he was two minor leagues from the NHL.

"It's a huge difference," the Winnipeg Jets goalie said. "I still joke around about it, that this time last year I was in the East Coast League. It's amazing how quickly things can change."

Hutchinson stopped 22 shots and Blake Wheeler scored twice to lead the Jets to a 3-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday at PNC Arena.

The Jets (9-6-2) have earned at least a point in nine of their past 10 games. Their only stumble was a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

Hutchinson earned the start against Carolina after a 33-save performance in a 1-0 shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 2. He faced only a handful of difficult shots against Carolina, but he was sharp when he needed to be, particularly in the second period.

"Early especially, we did a nice job of letting him see it," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "None of the rebounds really got away from him, and we were able to clear anything he didn't get to. But he was really solid and composed."

The same can be said for the rest of the Jets, who were quick through the neutral zone and consistently created quality scoring chances in the first two periods.

Winnipeg went up 1-0 on Wheeler's sixth goal at 5:29 of the first period. After curling near the goal line, Mark Scheifele put a pass on the stick of Mark Stuart, whose shot from inside the blue line was redirected in front by Wheeler.

Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward had to make a couple sparkling saves to keep it a one-goal game. He stopped Paul Postma at close range after Postma took a pass from Wheeler on a 3-on-1. A couple minutes later, Ward stopped a Matt Halischuk backhand shot to the far post.

The Hurricanes (5-7-3) tied the game on the power play early in the second period. With Zach Bogosian off for hooking, Elias Lindholm wrapped the puck from behind the goal line and off the skate of Stuart at 3:44. The goal was Lindholm's sixth in the past seven games. Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash earned assists.

The Jets regained the lead at 13:02 of the second, again on a redirect by Wheeler, after a strong forechecking shift. Scheifele protected the puck above the circles before leaving it for Bogosian, whose shot was tipped in by Wheeler in the low slot.

"Scheifele really creates that one by coming out of the corner with some speed and causing some confusion," Maurice said. "We did a good job of taking some of the heat off the shots to place them there. We've got some big guys who don't mind standing down in the heavy areas."

Winnipeg clamped down on the Hurricanes after regaining the lead, taking away passes and allowing seven shots in the third period. Michael Frolik's empty-net goal with 1:30 remaining in the third sealed the win for the Jets.

"That's something we've been working hard on, especially when teams move it up to the point and try to find their low three forwards, at least tying them up and doing a good job that way," said Bogosian, who poked the puck off Nathan Gerbe's stick on a third-period breakaway.

Aside from a stretch in the second period when Carolina sustained some offensive pressure, the Jets kept the Hurricanes from creating second chances.

"Our style of play is tough to play against," Wheeler said. "You can feel teams getting frustrated out there."

Carolina coach Bill Peters took note of Winnipeg's stingy play.

"They don't give up much," he said. "You watch the tape on the goaltender they played tonight, he's coming off a 0-0 game in Chicago that went into a shootout, so we knew it was going to be a low-scoring game, but we have to find a way to generate more quality scoring chances."

The game marked the first time that Peters has started with Eric Staal, who's played most of his career at center, playing right wing. Neither Staal nor his rookie center, Victor Rask, managed a shot on goal.

"This was probably the first time that Victor looked like a young guy," Peters said. "It didn't work obviously, but we had a bunch of lines that didn't work."

It was Hutchinson's second win this season and the fourth of his career. Last fall he was winning regularly in the minors, first for Ontario, where he was 22-4-2, then for the St. John's IceCaps, putting together a 17-5-1 mark with the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate.

"When I got sent down last year, I just had the mindset that I could be a factor in every game," Hutchinson said. "I just tried to help the team win as many games as I could. I kind of realized that it doesn't matter where you are; if you're winning people are going to notice."

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