Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Little's luck all Jets need

Forward's 13th goal of season at midway point wins it

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A five-year-old could do this arithmetic, it's so simple, and the Winnipeg Jets picked a very good night to go back to this fundamental -- two is better than one.

The Jets managed to score more than one actual goal for only the second time in seven games and made them both count for a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs before 15,004 ecstatic fans at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

Plenty has changed since the Leafs last left town on New Year's Eve, also with a one-goal loss. Toronto has gone 10-5-1 since then and is in an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

The Jets have sagged from a share of sixth place that night to tenth thanks to a miserable January of 4-8-1. Their win Tuesday at least pulled them back closer to the playoff line with 56 points, now just five points back of the eighth-place Ottawa Senators and six back of Toronto.

Winnipeg, however, has another avenue in play, at least today. It is only four points out of first place (and the third conference seed) in the Southeast Division and meets the team that occupies the spot, the Washington Capitals, Thursday night in the U.S. capital.

"We needed this, especially at home," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who keyed the game-winner midway through the second period by driving the net from the left wing, setting up linemate Bryan Little for a rebound goal.

"It's against a team we're trying to chase. Getting the win is huge but getting it in regulation is better, keeping them off the board."

Chase was a great description of Tuesday's plot.

The Jets had their hands full, as most teams do, with Toronto's excellent speed.

"I think we tried to play with our speed, too," Wheeler said of his team's counter-play.

"These guys are dymanic, play with a lot of speed and we're capable of doing the same, exact thing."

"We're a good-skating team but obvioiusly that line of (Phil) Kessel, (Joffrey) Lupul and (Tyler) Bozak have a lot of speed," said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian.

"I just thought we did a good job of tracking back. A few times in the second we got caught over backchecking but we did a better job in the third.

"We're a quick team and I think people underestimate us."

The Jets actually bested the Leafs in the four-game season's series, five points to four.

"It wasn't a Picasso, but it was a win," Jets coach Claude Noel said after his team moved to 25-24-6.

"We're happy about that. Our power play struggled but I thought we looked tired coming off a road trip.

"I didn't think we gave them a whole ton, but we did some good things. It was a good win for us."

After Kessel staked the 28-20-6 Leafs to a first-period lead, it was Chris Thorburn's second goal of the season -- sniping with a backhander from his off-wing -- that got the Jets back on even terms.

The Leafs pressed in the second but the perfect play was never there and it was the Jets who capitalized on what they had.

Wheeler, like Thorburn, also went down his wrong wing, going around Toronto defenceman Cody Franson. It was Little who dashed in to clean up the rebound for his 13th goal of the season.

Little has scored two goals in the last three games after going 14 games without a goal through mid-season and an injury.

The Jets then defended the lead through the third and bumped their record to 20-2-1 when leading after two.

They also held the Leafs to just 18 shots on goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, only the fourth time all season Toronto has generated less than 20 shots.

Winnipeg managed to direct 29 shots towards Toronto netminder Jonas Gustavvson.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Jets Report D2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2012 D1

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