Comeback Falls Short Against Jets
WINNIPEG - Dustin Byfuglien's versatility is proving to be highly valuable to the Winnipeg Jets.
Byfuglien, who was moved to forward from defence earlier this month but sometimes plays both positions in a game, scored the winner in a 5-4 overtime victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
The six-foot-five Byfuglien took a pass from captain Andrew Ladd and fired a wrist shot over goalie Jonathan Bernier's glove 2:44 into the extra frame for his 12th goal of the season.
"They (the Leafs) backed off a little bit," Byfuglien said. "They didn't know we were trying to regroup type of thing.
"It was tough for them, but I just got the puck on the net."
Rookie Mark Scheifele, defenceman Zach Bogosian and both Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little on the power play scored for the Jets, who outshot the Leafs 31-27 after regulation play and 32-28 following overtime.
Little also had an assist and Ladd added two assists for Winnipeg (24-24-5).
Jets coach Paul Maurice said Byfuglien's versatility is a big plus for the team.
"It's a huge, huge luxury," Maurice said. "It makes us run our bench. It makes my pairs right coming off the bench up front. You get all your best offensive players on the ice that way."
Byfuglien was moved to forward by former coach Claude Noel in his last game before he was fired and replaced by Maurice on Jan. 12.
The Jets are 5-1 under Maurice, but they let a 4-1 second-period lead get away that seemed a little reminiscent of the past.
Phil Kessel tied the game 4-4 with 1:33 left in the third period on a sharp-angled shot that beat goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
"I know the scoring progression is going to say we blew a 4-1 lead, but I didn't feel we didn't generate anything and that they were all over us," Maurice said.
"They had some flurries, they have some real good players. And we had some great chances, too."
Little said his team didn't lose its confidence as the scoreboard shifted.
"It's never fun when you start to let a team back in the game," Little said.
"When they scored that fourth (goal), I tell you we handled it real well. We stayed pretty level-headed. Even if it took longer than 60 minutes, I thought we felt we were going to get the job done."
Pavelec stop 24 of the 28 shots he faced.
James Reimer started for the Leafs, but let in four goals on 18 shots and was replaced by Bernier midway through the second period. Bernier stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced.
"We felt that it would be the decision to let a guy play in his hometown," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said of the decision to go with Reimer, who was born in Morweena, Man.
The Jets went up 2-0 early in the first period after scoring on their first and fourth shots of the game.
Toronto coughed up the puck in its own end and Jets forward Evander Kane got it and sent a pass to Scheifele. Reimer got a piece of Scheifele's shot, but not enough as the Jets went up 1-0 at 3:10 on the rookie's 10th goal of the season.
Winnipeg made good on its first power play of the game, courtesy of a hooking penalty on Leafs defenceman Morgan Reilly.
Pavelec got things started with a pass out to defenceman Jacob Trouba, who then sent the puck to Wheeler just outside Toronto's blue-line. Wheeler raced in alone on Reimer and put a shot through his pads at 6:34.
"Obviously, the first two goals were goals that I thought that were scored in the middle of the net and those are tough ones," Carlyle said. "I contemplated whether to do something at that point, but I felt get him through the period and give him an opportunity to fight and battle himself back.
"And then he did that because he came out in the second period and made some big stops. He made a stop on a breakaway. He battled hard for our hockey club."
A five-goal second period saw each team scoring twice in a span of 3:01.
The Leafs used a power play for Phaneuf's fifth goal of the season, a long one-timer straight at the net through traffic at 6:13 while Jets defenceman Keaton Ellerby was in the box for boarding.
Little's 17th goal of the season came just over a minute later as he redirected a shot by Toby Enstrom to make it 3-1.
Bogosian's shot 37 seconds later beat a partially screened Reimer and sent the goalie to the bench in favour of Bernier, who entered his 100th career game with his team down 4-1.
"Well, it was more mercy because one was a deflection and the another one was posted in," Carlyle said. "We just needed a little bit of a change."
Toronto made it 4-2 on Bodie's goal 61 seconds later at 9:14 and then made it a one-goal deficit at 16:44 when Gleason's shot hit Trouba and went through Pavelec's pads.
James van Riemsdyk assisted on Kessel's goal and saw a silver lining in falling just short of a successful comeback.
"We got down and were able to battle back and showed character," van Riemsdyk said. "But again, we'll take the point."