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BUFFALO — Blake Wheeler’s goal with 3:55 left in the third period gave the Winnipeg Jets a much-needed 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Sunday.
Winnipeg’s top line had been quiet most of the game but came through in the clutch, helping the Jets salvage something from their eastern road trip and snap a three-game losing streak.
Defenceman Josh Morrissey showed great patience in hanging on to the puck and finding Wheeler wide open for the easy tap-in. It was the 12th goal of the season for the captain.
Winnipeg was coming off back-to-back 5-2 defeats in Montreal and Ottawa and needed something good to happen. While it was far from perfect, the Jets will gladly take the two points and head home.
Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played a huge role in the victory, making 35 saves. Winnipeg improves to 35-18-3 on the year and move two points ahead of Nashville for top spot in the Central Division. The Jets have two games in hand.
After a scoreless opening period, Andrew Copp got the Jets on the board 3:01 into the second period, beating Carter Hutton on a shorthanded breakaway. Bryan Little made a nice play to get the puck to Copp, who fired his fifth of the season. It was also the seventh shorthanded goal for the Jets this year.
Little has been quietly piling up the points lately, as the veteran centre now has eight goals and eight assists in his past 16 games. He began the season with just 20 points in his first 40 games.
Winnipeg actually had several shorthanded chances on the game, including an Adam Lowry breakaway in the first period that came up just short. Brandon Tanev nearly cashed in the rebound seconds later.
However, Jack Eichel tied the game with just under eight minutes to play in the middle frame, just a few seconds after Little stepped out of the penalty box. His wrist shot beat Hellebuyck cleanly, giving Eichel 18 goals on the year.
Buffalo went 0-for-5 on the power play. Winnipeg had just one opportunity with the man advantage and came up empty, with the new-look top unit of Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic and Dustin Byfuglien unable to generate any real zone time, shots or chances.
After Wheeler’s big game-winner, Scheifele sealed it with an empty-net goal in the final seconds of the game, his team-leading 28th of the year.
The Jets begin a three-game homestand on Tuesday night when the New York Rangers pay a visit to Bell MTS Place. The Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators will also come to town later in the week.
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.