Nothing seems to come easy for the Winnipeg Jets these days.
Yet, on a night when they were far from their best, the Jets managed to sneak away with a 3-1 home win over a surging Carolina Hurricanes squad that gave them everything they could handle.
Bryan Little broke a tie with 2:09 left in the third period, converting a Josh Morrissey pass for his first goal of the season. Kyle Connor added an empty-netter in the final second of the game to seal it.
Winnipeg, wearing its aviator-blue third jerseys for the first time, improved to 3-2-0. Carolina lost for the first time in regulation and is now 4-1-1.
Backup goalie Laurent Brossoit, making his first start of the season for the Jets, stole the show. He stopped 42 of 43 shots, many of the dangerous variety, and kept his teammates in the game until they finally seemed to get their legs going in the final period.
“If he doesn’t play that way, we don’t have a chance to win. So, he was outstanding,” said captain Blake Wheeler, who said there were no inspirational speeches in the second intermission.
“There was no ‘coming to Jesus’ speech. We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Wheeler said. “Can’t be too greedy about getting two points in this league. So, it was a good win for our team. We’ll take it and move on.”
Carolina came out with a clear plan to shoot the puck as much as possible, which is no surprise given that the squad fired 57 pucks at Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk on Saturday night in St. Paul in a 5-4 overtime triumph.
“To be honest, that’s kind of the game I like to play in. I like to get involved early,” said Brossoit, who signed with the Jets over the summer following a disappointing stint in Edmonton which included being demoted to the AHL last season.
“I felt good in the game, and obviously it’s nice to contribute and get that first win out of the way,” he said. “It was a huge character win.”
Carolina was all over Winnipeg through the first two periods and took advantage of far too many Jets giveaways, which seemed to be especially contagious among all blue-liners.
But Brossoit was there time and time again to bail out his teammates. His highlights included stopping red-hot Sebastian Aho on a first-period breakaway and Andrei Svechnikov on a second-period solo dash. Both came as the result of egregious Winnipeg turnovers.
He was even making saves missing pieces of his equipment, as his pad came off during a goal-mouth scramble when Morrissey accidentally backed into him.
“I was focusing on the play and all of a sudden, my leg felt really cold. Then I looked back and I didn’t have a pad on. That’s never happened to me before,” Brossoit said.
With the contest scoreless after 40 minutes, the Jets came out with much more jump in the final frame and were rewarded for their efforts.
Patrik Laine cashed in at the 4:14 mark on the power play. Morrissey’s slapshot went wide, Wheeler picked it off the boards and fed Laine with a perfect cross-seam pass for the one-timer. It was Laine’s second goal of the season, both with the man advantage.
“That’s how we drew it up,” Morrissey joked about missing the net. He doesn’t usually get power-play time but took the spot of regular Dustin Byfuglien, who missed Sunday’s contest with an upper-body injury suffered a day earlier in practice.
“It’s something that, as a player, you relish that chance to get out there,” Morrissey said.
Dmitry Kulikov dressed in Byfuglien’s place, playing for the first time this season.
Laine’s goal was Winnipeg’s first in more than six full periods of play, a span of 133:53 dating back to the middle frame of their home opener last Tuesday against Los Angeles. It came as a relief, considering Mark Scheifele and Joe Morrow hit posts earlier in the game, while Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers couldn’t convert on a rare 2-on-0 in the second period.
Winnipeg’s lead was short-lived, however, as Micheal Ferland tied it up less than four minutes later. Carolina defenceman Dougie Hamilton hit the post, and Ferland, the pride of Swan River, knocked home the loose puck for his third goal of the year.
Then, Little came through in the clutch in the final moments.
“I saw quite a bit of net. He almost got a glove on it. Josh (Morrissey) made a great pass, kind of opened up the seam and made a great pass right on my tape. So, credit to him,” Little said.
Morrissey said Carolina’s speed was tough to handle at times.
“They’re a team that buzzes. They have fast players and they don’t ever give up on a puck. We talked about it before the game and we saw it through the game. They knock a lot of pucks down, they hound you on the back-check and there’s never an easy pass (available),” Morrissey said.
“They’ve got a lot of quick players and they’re going the other way. We fed into that a little bit. I definitely don’t think that was a game that at the end of the year we’ll look back as a template for a win. But any win in the NHL is a good win and to start us off on this homestand, it was big to find a way to just battle through it. Sometimes, it’s not going to look pretty but you’re going to have to find a way to grind and we were able to find a way today.”
After handing Nashville nine power plays in Thursday night’s 3-0 loss, the Jets were better behaved Sunday as they took just two minors, killing off both. Winnipeg penalty killers have now negated 13 straight.
Coach Paul Maurice expected his club would have its hand full with a Carolina team very much on the rise.
“There was some good in that game. I didn’t expect it to be one that we would be sending out with season’s tickets brochures at the start of the year. But we knew going in it wasn’t going to look like that,” Maurice said.
Sunday’s game was the start of six straight at home for the Jets, who face the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.
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.