Jets come close, but can’t end winless streak in Pittsburgh – lose to Penguins 2-1 in OT

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PITTSBURGH – The Jets ventured into the belly of the beast that is PPG Paints Arena and nearly ended a 10 1/2-year drought Thursday night.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2017 (1861 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PITTSBURGH – The Jets ventured into the belly of the beast that is PPG Paints Arena and nearly ended a 10 1/2-year drought Thursday night.

Winnipeg brought a scrappy work ethic and the heroics of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, pushing the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to the brink before dropping a heart-stopping 2-1 decision in front of 18,885 fans.

Phil Kessel’s goal at 1:07 of overtime was the winner but the goaltenders — Hellebuyck and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray — were the stars of the show. Kessel scored on a breakaway, firing the puck through Hellebuyck’s legs after intercepting a cross-ice pass from Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine in the Pittsburgh zone.

It was Kessel’s second overtime winner in as many games, his 300th career goal and his 51st game-winner.

“I almost read it too well,” said Hellebuyck, who finished with 34 saves. “He came down and I knew he was going to go five-hole and I was going to kick it out and let our D-man go the other way. That’s not goaltending. That’s not what I worked on all summer, that’s not going to be what I do continuing forward.”

Laine’s error was crucial, too. 

“We want to be real careful with those lateral passes,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, whose team plays the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight. “Part of 3-on-3 is making a better decision with that puck but also being in a better spot to not have to force it. We’ve got room to put the puck in other places. Clearly he’s in full possession of it and he has to make a better decision.”

Winnipeg went to 4-3-1 while Pittsburgh improved to 7-3-1.

Murray was a monster in the Pens net, too. He finished the game with 30 saves, many of which were of the highlight variety, and he held the visitors off the board during their two power plays.

The Jets got a terrific effort from off-season free agent Matt Hendricks. The 36-year-old had missed seven games with a lower-body injury but he centred the fourth line and was a key man on the penalty-killing unit that snuffed out all four Pittsburgh power-play chances. Hendricks finished the game with one hit, three blocked shots while winning seven of 10 faceoffs.

“These guys have a target on their back here in Pittsburgh all season, so we came and we took a point from them,” said Hendricks. “We had a chance to take two, it didn’t work out. 

“Now we go to play another great team in Columbus tomorrow and if we come out with the same mentality and the same detailed game I think we’re going to have some success.”

Hendricks’ effort was widely praised.

“He’s 7-1 on the draw through two periods and that changes how you can run your bench in terms of your penalty kill. He had a real big impact on that,” said Maurice. “He does a real nice job and had a big impact on the game for us.”

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby can't get his stick on a rebound in front of Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck in the first period of their game in Pittsburgh, Thursday.

Centre Bryan Little and defenceman Toby Enstrom, the longest serving members of the Jets organization, have never won a road game in Pittsburgh, a span of 16 consecutive games in which they had been outscored 75-37 and also including seven losses since the franchise relocated from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season.

In fact, the last time the Thrashers/Jets franchise beat the Pens in Pittsburgh came on Dec. 27, 2006, when since-retired defenceman Shane Hnidy played 23:44 to help Atlanta post a 4-2 victory at old Mellon Arena.

The teams traded goals in the first period. The Penguins got things off to a blazing start 85 seconds in when Conor Sheary’s perfect one-handed redirection of Jake Guentzel’s feed on a 2-on-2 break went through Hellebuyck’s five-hole. Dmitry Kulikov, the defender on Sheary’s side, was unable to contain the speedy winger.

“That’s just how some hockey games start,” said Hellebuyck, who won his first four starts before Thursday’s OT loss. “I’m kinda glad it happened early in the year but now we know we’ve got the character in this room to battle from it. That’s exactly what we did.”

The Jets countered at 10:34 when Bryan Little won an offensive-zone draw cleanly back to Josh Morrissey at the point. The sophomore blue-liner cradled the puck momentarily before ripping a high shot over Murray’s glove into the top corner of the net. It didn’t hurt that the shot appeared to change direction ever so slightly as it glanced off Pittsburgh blue-liner Kris Letang’s stick.

Carl Hagelin thought he had given the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 6:10 of the middle period when his wraparound backhander beat Hellebuyck. However, the play had been whistled dead moments before when Morrissey, reaching to poke-check Hagelin and bracing himself on the crossbar, dislodged the net.

Morrissey went to the box for delay of game but thanks to nifty penalty killing and a heroic shot block by Hendricks, who had surrendered his stick to defenceman Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg emerged unscathed.

The visitors nearly took the lead, first when Murray denied Nikolaj Ehlers after a fabulous cross-ice pass from Laine and later, when D-man Tyler Myers went in alone, only to find Murray’s pad with his shot.

Winnipeg hadn’t played since beating the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Oct. 20. The resulting rust showed early.

“There’s really no way around a six-day break,” said Hendricks. “We weren’t as crisp and as detailed as we wanted to be early. That was a heck of a play though, a top-notch goal by Pittsburgh (in the first period). I loved our response. We didn’t go into panic mode and try to score the next shift. We got back to our game plan and dug and dug and dug. 

“It was a great hockey game all night long.” 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Photo/Gene J. Puskar / The Associated Press Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien collides with Pittsburgh Penguins' Ryan Reaves in the second period in Pittsburgh, Thursday.
Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

History

Updated on Thursday, October 26, 2017 10:23 PM CDT: Full write through, adds photo

Updated on Thursday, October 26, 2017 10:59 PM CDT: Final edit

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