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Dustin Byfuglien always seems to know how to make a big impression.
The veteran defenceman found a perfect time to hit a major milestone Friday night, scoring with just under seven minutes to play to lead the Winnipeg Jets to a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. It was the 500th point of his career.
“He’s such an important piece to our team,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice said following the game at Little Ceasars Arena. “He has that ability to read the play like very few other people. He does it defensively as well. He’s just hard to stop.”
Winnipeg improves to 7-3-1, while Detroit remains stuck in the NHL’s basement with a 1-7-2 record.
Byfuglien’s goal came seconds after receiving a risky seam pass from defence partner Ben Chiarot, which was nearly intercepted by a Detroit forward and could have ended up in a breakaway going the other way, just as an eerily similar play did earlier this season in Nashville on a game-winning goal by the Predators.
Such is the often fine line between success and defeat.
“You gotta be right, because if you’re wrong it looks like Nashville,” said Maurice. “In Ben’s defence on that play, Buff was very clearly calling for it. And those plays at the blue line happen fast. And the payoff is if you send it over hot enough you can beat the forward.”
Energy forward Brandon Tanev picked up the other helper on the play, several minutes after he made a crucial shot block with his team killing a penalty that ended with him on the ice in agony. He immediately went to the dressing room to get checked out, yet didn’t miss a shift.
“It just kind of hit me in a general area — my hand, my face, my gut, a little bit of everywhere. But it’s part of the job and you have to continue to battle through it,” said Tanev.
Maurice said those kind of plays often make a difference in a close game.
“It was that kind of game. We needed that effort. So we got a big block from him, he was in on the forecheck all night. And then Tanev and (Mathieu) Perreault again, that kind of intensity, and then you’ve got Nik Ehlers blocking a shot at the end of the game. So it’s infectious. We could use more of that in our game,” said Maurice.
The other big story was the continued stellar play of backup goalie Laurent Brossoit. He made 27 saves to improve his record as Jet to 3-0-0.
“It’s huge. I always knew that I could play to this level. It’s nice to come out and have a good start and it makes it easier to look forward for the rest of the season with a lot of optimism, for sure,” said the Edmonton Oilers cast-off, who signed a free agent deal with the Jets last summer.
At the other end of the ice, Jimmy Howard was busy in making 38 saves.
“I’m pleased. You get a 2-1 win road win. We don’t give anything up five-on-five, our goalie was good, their goalie was outstanding at times. I thought we built on the game, our compete started to get really really strong. We were just on pucks, knocking things down. It looked like both teams were having a hard time handling it at times. But it was a night you had to battle for every inch and we did a really good job of that,” said Maurice.
The Jets once again looked sluggish out of the gate Friday night as Detroit outshot them 14-9 in the first period and scored the opening goal on a power play. Andreas Anthanasiou one-timed a shot through Brossoit to give the home team a boost given their terrible start to the season
That marked the fourth straight game the Jets gave up the game’s first goal, and seventh time in 11 games this season. They also continued a troubling pattern by taking the first penalty of the game for the eighth straight time as defenceman Jacob Trouba’s interference infraction had put them down a man.
“They had a tough week and you knew they were going to get real focused and come and play real hard. And they did, they battled real hard. I figured the first was going to look like that and it did. And I was real pleased we were able to get better,” said Maurice.
The Jets earned four straight power plays through the second period and seemed to grab momentum back, outshooting Detroit by 21-4 in the middle frame. Kyle Connor tied it up late in the period on a power play after Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele set him up for his fifth of the year.
“It’s a good feeling. I have a lot of family and friends in town, so it’s pretty special,” the Michigan native said of scoring an NHL goal for the first time in his home state.
Maurice said it was a well-deserved goal from Connor, who had done terrific work on that shift keeping the puck in the Detroit zone and wearing out the Red Wings.
“He had done just a marvellous job on puck recovery. So many of the pucks that stayed alive were his net front to the corner with his quickness. So glad to see him get a goal on that because he did a lot of the heavy lifting,” said Maurice.
The Jets continued to look like the better team into the final period and the work finally paid off with Byfuglien’s winner.
“I thought we weathered the storm pretty well. In the second period, they got into some penalty trouble and we took over for the rest of the game,” Brossoit said of what made the difference.
Patrik Laine continued to struggle at five-on-five play and was bumped to the fourth line late in the second period, switching places with Perreault. When asked to explain the reasoning for the move, Maurice simply said “watching the game.”
Winnipeg continues the road trip tonight in Toronto before heading to Finland for a pair of games next week against the Florida Panthers. They’ll be looking for some redemption against the Maple Leafs (7-3-0) after losing 4-2 to them on Wednesday night at Bell MTS Place.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.