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Young guns had help

Little, Wheeler did the grunt work on two of rookies' goals

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TREVOR HAGAN /  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Winnipeg�s Blake Wheeler (26) and Edmonton�s Mark Arcobello make poking a lens through the camera portal a risky business.

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TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg�s Blake Wheeler (26) and Edmonton�s Mark Arcobello make poking a lens through the camera portal a risky business.

It was shaping up to be one of those days -- Jets' fans have seen plenty of them -- when things just don't seem to be going as planned.

The Edmonton Oilers held a lead for more than 18 minutes and into the third period Saturday at the MTS Centre. The abundance of whites-of-his-eyeballs chances the Jets were generating -- hello Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Anthony Peluso in particular -- were getting nowhere against Oilers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

So the $64,000 question became -- who among the Jets was going to step up with a play to get this thing going in the right direction?

Certainly, the team's rookies, Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele, came through in spades but it was two veteran players who were at the heart of making the biggest difference when the chips were down.

Cue centre Bryan Little, whose marvellous, patient work while teammate Toby Enstrom was in the penalty box led to Trouba's first goal to tie the game.

And then right-winger Blake Wheeler showed drive and perseverance in the overtime, staying with a puck after Bryzgalov made a save and finding Trouba unchecked near the crease for the winner in a 3-2 decision.

"Definitely when I went out there I wasn't thinking offence," Little said of the situation early in the third, as he eluded a sprawling Edmonton defenceman Jeff Petry and then faked out Anton Belov to feed Trouba. "I was thinking (about) trying to get this thing killed.

"But as soon as we got the puck, I knew we had a rush going because Laddy (Andrew Ladd) was going, too. So I kind of took it from him because I was ahead of him and had more speed going. So I just kind of waited long enough for the D man to fall down and him and Laddy were standing right there and it was an easy play for me to make to him."

Wheeler took a stretch pass to the net in overtime and didn't quite get the puck to go in on his shot.

But when Petry fumbled the clearing attempt right back to him, he calmly took it and spotted Trouba in the same place as earlier, a voila, an overtime victory was in the books.

"When the game's on the line, when you need a play to be made, you need guys to step up," Wheeler said. "You want to be one of those guys that comes through for your team.

"It's not going to happen all the time. But if you have the mentality that you want to be the guy, you find yourself creating more chances than not."

Jets fans have heard many times how their team has been simply stuck, and trailing the Oilers Saturday was shaping up as another.

"The puck wasn't easy for us," said coach Paul Maurice. "It wasn't a matter of sharpness. Sometimes, for whatever reason, whether you're trying too hard or not enough, I can't put my finger on it, it wasn't an easy game for us."

Wheeler, without mentioning himself or Little, said a few little things got them unstuck.

"I think there was a little bit of frustration going through our bench through two periods," he said. "You could tell that they knew what they wanted to do against us. They were clogging it up against us and we weren't able to create as much team speed as we had the last two games.

"It wasn't bad, but I think guys wanted to play with the puck a little bit more, create more offence. After the second period we made some adjustments, refocused, and got amped up to go out there in the third period."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2014 B2

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