WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets shook off a rough start and then produced two outstanding periods against one of the NHL’s top teams.
Blake Wheeler’s empty-net goal with 1:08 unleashed a roar from the MTS Centre crowd that had been building for several minutes, when it appeared the Jets were going to hold on for the win. Wheeler’s goal was the final tally in Winnipeg’s 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 15,004 spectators.
Winnipeg won its second in a row — and first at home — to improve to 2-1-1, while the Penguins fell to 2-2-0. The Jets will host the New York Islanders on Sunday night before hitting the road for three games next week.
Sidney Crosby, playing in his first NHL game in Winnipeg, scored a pair of first-period goals against the Jets to give the Pens a 2-0 lead, but Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, on the power play, and Andrew Ladd gave the home side a 3-2 lead at the second intermission.
Crosby’s first period was not surprising considering he piled up the points when the Jets were the Atlanta Thrashers. Crosby, who was booed every time he touched the puck, now has 15 goals and 26 assists in 22-plus games against the Thrashers/Jets franchise. Jets fans also chanted “Mario’s pool boy” when Crosby was on the ice.
Crosby’s first tally came about 30 seconds after Jets defenceman Grant Clitsome turned the puck over at Winnipeg’s blue-line. The puck got out of the Jets zone, but Clitsome couldn’t get off the ice as the Penguins attacked again. Crosby took a pass from Chris Kunitz and beat Ondrej Pavelec on the short side.
On his second goal, Crosby skated down the left side and cut towards the net with Jets blue-liner Mark Stuart fishing wildly at the puck. Crosby then quickly ripped a backhand through the legs of Pavelec, who is 1-10 in his career against the Penguins.
The Jets found their bearings during the first intermission, because they looked much better at the start of the second. Just 1:10 into the middle frame Kane was the lucky recipient of a slick passing play that also involved Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien.
Then, with 6:25 to go in second, Byfuglien let a slap shot go from the point that sailed over the right shoulder of a screened Tomas Vokoun. Nik Antropov was the one doing the screening.
Less than five minutes later, Bryan Little found a wide-open Andrew Ladd in the slot, and the Jets captain made no mistake.
The Jets had a great chance to make it 4-2 about a minute later, but Vokoun robbed Kane with his glove on a juicy rebound.
The Penguins, who didn’t test Pavelec in the third until there were eight minutes left in the frame, still out-shot the Jets 34-32.