The Winnipeg Jets looked at Sunday night’s game as do or die when it came to the playoff race and they played like it, burying the Dallas Stars, 7-2, at MTS Centre.
The Stars, who were plagued by costly turnovers in the game, had little go right for them on the night. After taking a 2-1 lead in the first period, the Stars gave up six unanswered goals the rest of the way.
“It’s more than just a loss. We got off our game and had some terrible turnovers, they really took advantage of it,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I thought Winnipeg did a really good job, forced some turnovers and I thought they stayed with it longer than we did.”
The seven goals against matched the Stars’ season-worst, set in a 7-3 loss to the NY Islanders on January 6. The seven goals were a season-high for the Jets.
“Obviously, we didn’t play very well. Pretty embarrassing,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “Turned pucks over, they buried them on us. They got to their speed game better than we could, just got away from us.”
“We made some mental mistakes out there,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “I thought Timmy played a pretty good game. We just kind of let him down.”
The Stars (32-24-11) remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they failed to take advantage of one of their games in hand on ninth-place Phoenix, who is tied with the Stars at 75 points. The Stars still have one game in hand and own the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker (29-27).
“[The Jets] are a desperate team. They played like it. We’ve got to be too. We’re right there. So we got to put this one behind us and move on obviously,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski.
The Jets, who received two goals and an assist from Dustin Byfuglien, four assists from Blake Wheeler and a 25-save effort from Al Montoya, snapped a six-game winless streak and pulled to within four points of the Stars in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. The Jets have played two more games than the Stars.
“[It was] a really important learning process for a young team to have success in a big game, getting down early, and then coming back and being very good,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice.
“We've liked the way we've been playing for the most part,” Wheeler said. “The last three or four games we've actually played really well but it just hasn't worked out for us, so to get the results is definitely gratifying.”
The two teams combined for five goals in the first period, three for the Jets and two for the Stars. After Stars center Cody Eakin turned over the puck in the Dallas zone, Jacob Trouba finished off the sequence by beating Tim Thomas from the right circle 3:11 into the game.
The Stars bounced back by scoring two goals in 37 seconds to take a 2-1 lead. Alex Chiasson knocked home the loose puck after Goligoski put a shot on net to tie the game at 6:25 of the first. Tyler Seguin roofed a backhand after a nice set up by Valeri Nichushkin to give the Stars the lead at the 7:02 mark.
But after that it was all Jets, who would score two more in the first to take the lead, add then add two more in the second and another in the third.
“Start of the game, we weren’t that bad. It was just kind of back and forth,” said Goligoski. “We got caught a couple times in turnovers and then they buried them on us, just kind of piled up on us.”
Just moments after Montoya stopped Erik Cole on a breakaway, Winnipeg tied the game when Goligoski fanned on a pass up the boards, Michael Frolik scooped up the puck and scored off the rebound of his own shot to tie the game 2-2 at 11:54 of the first.
The Jets took the lead at 17:02 of the first when Wheeler was stopped by Thomas, but got the puck back and set up defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who scored from the slot to make it a 3-2 game.
The Jets scored 29 seconds into the second period when Colton Sceviour turned the puck over along the boards and Wheeler backhanded the puck to Olli Jokinen, who was all alone in front of the net and beat Thomas to give Winnipeg a 4-2 lead. That was it for Thomas, who gave way to Nilstorp.
The Stars had a power play chance at 11:29 of the second, but couldn’t cut into the lead. The Jets got a 48-second five-on-three later in the period and cashed in on the five-on-four portion of it when Byfuglien beat a screened Nilstorp with a blast from the slot to make it a 5-2 game with 3:30 left in the second.
Byfuglien and Evander Kane added third period goals to push the score to 7-2.
“I am disappointed in the way we played. I was disappointed in our composure,” said Ruff. “There were areas of our game where we’ve been pretty good that I didn’t think we showed enough resolve. We didn’t compete hard enough on the walls and when we got under pressure we threw some pucks in the middle of the ice that you can’t put in the middle of the ice. … I didn’t like our game in any zone. We started OK and after that there was too much distance between players.”
The Stars continue their road trip Tuesday when they play at Pittsburgh.
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