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Buff does right stuff

OT winner again shows 'unbelievable luxury' of big man's versatility

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TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Head coach Paul Maurice gives some pointers to Bryan Little (left) and Andrew Ladd on Saturday night.

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TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Head coach Paul Maurice gives some pointers to Bryan Little (left) and Andrew Ladd on Saturday night.

Paul MAURICE is starting to dig this Dustin Byfuglien -- part D-man, part forward -- a hybrid.

The Winnipeg Jets' big man, playing his seventh game as a forward who drops back to the point on the power play, brought the MTS Centre crowd to its feet Saturday night by scoring the winner in a 5-4 OT thriller.

Byfuglien again started the game patrolling the right side with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi and was on the ice in extra time with Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Jacob Trouba when he beat Jonathan Bernier.

"That is an unbelievable luxury for us," said Maurice. "So I've always wanted to do four-on-four against other conferences, play three forwards and one defenceman and just go and try and open the game up as much as you can.

"You know I'm not trying to trade chances 5-on-5, (but) I wouldn't mind trading chances 4-on-4. I think that's the way it should be.

"So you get the benefit of the forward and a guy who has played a lot of time on defence. It's a huge, huge luxury for us. It makes my (defensive) pairs right coming off the bench, and up front you get all your best offensive players on the ice that way. It really helps us running the bench."

Byfuglien picked up two points on the night, scoring the game-winner and also drawing an assist on Bryan Little's power-play goal in the second period. He now has 16 points (6G, 10A) over the last 17 games and has 19 power-play points (5G, 14A) this season for the Jets -- a team with 26 man-advantage markers this year.

Asked what he was thinking when he got the puck in OT, Byfuglien said:

"Between the legs, dangle, off the skate... No, just simple shooting, try to make a play if it's there. Saw an opening to the net, just get pucks there. They backed off a little bit. They didn't know we were kind of on the regroup type of thing. So it was tough for them. And I just got the puck on net."

What's interesting is while some thought Claude Noel's decision to move Byfuglien up front was both desperate and an attempt to possibly showcase his versatility in advance of the trade deadline, it's now clear Maurice is enamoured with the uniqueness of a 6-5, 270-something player with a booming shot and soft hands.

"He has the ability to do some pretty special stuff," Jets rookie Jacob Trouba said of Byfuglien's OT marker. "So you just give him the puck and let him do what he does. Those are the kind of things he can do."

--with files from Tim Campbell

ed.Tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2014 B2

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