WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) – Blake Wheeler knows the Winnipeg Jets are still a long shot to earn the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. A decisive thumping of the team they’re chasing gave them a glimmer of hope Sunday night.
Wheeler had four assists as the Jets stormed back to beat the Dallas Stars 7-2. The Jets pulled within four points of the eighth-place Stars with the victory, although Dallas has two games in hand.
“We’re a little too far back to have statement games,” Wheeler said. “It was a good step for us. It was a good start to hopefully something good here. We’ve got to rally and string a bunch together now.”
The Jets snapped a six-game winless streak that hurt their playoff chances.
“We’ve liked the way we’ve been playing, for the most part,” Wheeler said. “The last three or four games, we’ve actually played really well, but it just hasn’t worked out for us. So to get the results is definitely gratifying.”
Dustin Byfuglien had two goals and an assist for the Jets, while Jacob Trouba, Michael Frolik, Evander Kane, Ollie Jokinen and Tobias Enstrom also scored. Jokinen and Enstrom each added two assists in the team’s highest-scoring game of the season.
Alex Chiasson and Tyler Seguin scored first-period goals for the Stars, who had earned points in their previous four games.
The Jets scored the next six goals after Seguin had given the Stars a 2-1 lead 7:02 into the game.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff thought his team had enough quality chances to have a bigger lead.
“It’s more than just a loss,” Ruff said. “We got off our game. We had some terrible turnovers and they took advantage of it. I thought they stayed with it longer than we did.”
Al Montoya, starting in place of the injured Ondrej Pavelec, survived a shaky start and finished with 25 saves on 27 shots, including one on Erik Cole’s breakaway that could have given Dallas a two-goal lead.
“That goes back to experience, I guess,” said Montoya, who upped his record to 11-5-3. “Being put in that situation several times, you’ve got a choice. You either go out there and make a big save or you let the mental part of the game bother you. I’m a battler and I like to think my teammates think the same thing of me.”
Tim Thomas started in goal for Dallas, but stopped just 13 of the 17 shots he faced and was pulled after Jokinen’s goal 29 seconds into the second period made it 4-2. Cristopher Nilstorp, a 30-year-old goalie with five games of NHL experience, came off the bench and allowed three goals on 17 shots. The Stars lost regular starter Kari Lehtonen to a concussion on March 8.
“I’m disappointed in the way we played,” Ruff said. “I’m disappointed in the composure. I didn’t think we showed enough resolve.”
After a wide-open first period, the Stars mustered only three shots on goal in the second as the Jets built a 5-2 lead.
“It’s a really important learning process for a young team to have success in a big game getting down early and then coming back and being very good,” Maurice said.
Jokinen found himself all alone in front of the Dallas net after a pass from Wheeler and scored on a shifty deke to chase Thomas from the game.
Then, Byfuglien blasted a hard shot from the point on the power play to make it a three-goal lead.
The defenseman-turned-forward scored again early in the third — his 19th of the season — and moments later, nearly became the first Jets player to record a hat trick since the team relocated from Atlanta, but was stopped on a breakaway by Nilstorp.
The eventful evening for Byfuglien ended with him leaving the game with a lower-body injury midway through the third period. Maurice said he expected Byfuglien to be available for the Jets’ next game in St. Louis on Monday night.
After Trouba opened the scoring at 3:11, the Stars took only four minutes to regain the lead. Chiasson poked the puck under Montoya after the netminder appeared to have control of a point shot. Then, Seguin notched his 30th of the season after a pass from rookie Valeri Nichushkin.
Frolik tied it after a giveaway from Stars defenseman Alex Gologoski, and Enstrom deposited a pass from Wheeler past Thomas to give the Jets the lead for good.
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