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This article was published 23/1/2018 (1459 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – It's been a long time coming – but the Winnipeg Jets have finally found a way to win a game in overtime.
Bryan Little banged home a loose puck just 18 seconds into the three-on-three competition Tuesday night as Winnipeg won a 5-4 thriller over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center. The Jets were a dreadful 0-6 in games decided in overtime leading up to the game.
"It felt good. It's not like we haven't had our chances to get an overtime win," Little said in the dressing room following the game. "It definitely feels nice, especially after the way that game went."
It's the third win in the past four days for the Jets, who improve to 29-13-7 and maintain first place in the ultra-competitive Central division. But this one wasn't the cakewalk it looked like it might be.
Winnipeg needed just 18 seconds of the opening period to match their goal output from each of the previous four games. It took them just a few more minutes to surpass it – and then some. Mathieu Perreault, Joel Armia and Little all scored before the game was even 12 minutes old.
But the Jets melted down after racing out to the early 3-0 lead, watching it ultimately vanish. Some bad habits, ones that haven't been seen much this season, crept into their game. Costly turnovers, defensive breakdowns and careless penalties.
Much of it can be traced to the fact the Jets were forced to play with just five defenceman after Dmitry Kulikov was knocked out of the game in the first period after taking a hit from behind by San Jose's Tomas Hertl. He was cut on the play and immediately left the ice. Hertl was given a five-minute boarding major and a game misconduct,
Coach Paul Maurice had to get the blender out as the remaining five were mixed and matched with each other the rest of the night, sometimes forced to play their unnatural side.
"It's tough when you're playing five D for basically the whole game. I thought we did a good job managing the five guys. We played hard. We let it slip a little bit," said defenceman Tyler Myers. "We're going to have hockey games like that, teams are going to keep it close. It was a real exciting game and we were fortunate to come out in overtime."
Winnipeg couldn't have scripted a better start as they kicked off a two-game California road trip leading into this weekend's All-Star game.
Nikolaj Ehlers tried a shot which deflected off Perreault's skate 18 seconds into the opening frame. Considering Winnipeg is an incredible 22-1-4 this season when scoring first, it was an important goal. Perreault is up to 15 goals this season.
Then Andrew Copp made a beautiful pass to Armia, who tried to feed linemate Brandon Tanev – only to have the puck bounce off a Sharks' defenceman right back on to his stick. He one-timed it past goalie Aaron Dell for a 2-0 lead at the 4:32 mark. It was Armia's 8th of the year.
Winnipeg cashed in on the power play that resulted from Hertl's hit, as Little deflected a point shot from Myers.
But then things began falling apart.
San Jose got a 2-on-0 thanks to an atrocious line change late in the first period, but goalie Connor Hellebuyck stood tall. But Hellebuyck couldn't stop Joe Pavelski who ripped a shot past him with just 46 seconds left in the period. Toby Enstrom had lost his stick, Ehlers hit the ice trying to block a pass attempt and Pavelski made them pay. It was chaos all around.
That spilled over to the second, as the Sharks tied it up with a pair of goals. First it was Logan Couture taking advantage of a Jets turnover, and then it was Chris Tierney converting a beautiful Tic-Tac-Toe passing play with his team on the power play. Blake Wheeler, with his second minor of the game, was in the box at the time.
The Jets were reeling.
"We had a real good first. They had a real good second. That's it. They're a good hockey team," said Maurice. "Either both teams had really good sticks, or both teams had really bad sticks. It was a mixture of the two all night. But it wasn't easy to make plays."
Things settled down a bit in the third period, and Armia gave the Jets new life when he ripped home a wicked wrist shot with just over eight minutes left. But another tire fire of a shift by the Jets in their own end resulted with Timo Meier beating Hellebuyck to make it 4-4 with 4:40 left.
To make matters worse, Dustin Byfuglien took a high-sticking penalty just as the goal was scored, sending the Sharks to the power play. Winnipeg survived it.
Byfuglien then made the key play in overtime, driving the puck to the net right off the opening faceoff. His attempt to jam-home a goal missed, but Little was the beneficiary of the loose puck and scored his 10th of the year for the winner.
"It was definitely back and forth the whole game. It was a fast, hard-paced game. It feels good to come out with two points," said Little.
Winnipeg came into the contest having scored just one goal in four straight games. The first two were losses, while the last two were a 2-1 shootout win in Calgary Saturday, followed by a 1-0 victory over Vancouver at Bell MTS Place Sunday. Now they've won three-in-a-row.
The Jets wrap up the trip on Thursday night in Anaheim.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.