WINNIPEG -- The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the first two periods of Friday night's game against Winnipeg everywhere but on the scoreboard. That took a little longer.
The Penguins had fired 26 shots at Ondrej Pavelec, making this third start in four nights, but were tied 1-1 after 40 minutes. However, James Neal broke the tie 22 seconds into the third period, and goals by Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis in a 40-second span gave the Penguins a 4-1 win.
"Between the second and third [periods], as a group, 1-1 on the road, especially in a building like this, we felt like we were in control," said Joe Vitale, who scored the Penguins' opening goal.
But Penguins coach Dan Bylsma admitted that the Jets' hanging in the game through two periods despite being outplayed by the Penguins had the potential to be a problem.
"At that point, you're feeling a little bit like the next goal is going to be a big decider," Bylsma said. "I was really pleased the way we came out in the third and kept on our game and right off the hop got a forechecking goal. I thought we took over the game in the third period. We stuck with the game plan and didn't get discouraged by them tying the game 1-1 in the second."
Chris Kunitz added two assists that extended his point streak to four games, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 18 saves to push the Penguins to their third consecutive win. Neal has scored in all three of the wins and owns a seven-game point streak. Steve Sullivan assisted on the Penguins' third goal for his 700th NHL point, and Evgeni Malkin's assist on Neal's game-winner pushed his point streak to seven games as well. With 40 points, Malkin now sits three off the NHL lead held by Philadelphia's Claude Giroux.
Pittsburgh (20-11-4) outshot Winnipeg 39-19 and finally wore down Pavelec, who had shut out Montreal 4-0 on Thursday at home, and was playing his 30th game of the season, a workload second only to Montreal's Carey Price. Pavelec finished with 35 saves for Winnipeg, and Alexander Burmistrov provided the Jets' lone goal. The Jets finished 3-2-1 on a six-game homestand.
"You've got to be ready for the third period," Pavelec said. "I think we were fine after the second. Overall, I think it wasn't a good effort. But we played great last night, and tonight it was a tough game against a really good team."
A home-heavy December schedule had allowed the Jets (16-14-5) to assemble a 7-2-1 run in December entering their meeting with the Penguins and put the Jets into a position to break into the Eastern Conference's top-eight. The Florida Panthers' 8-0 loss to the Boston Bruins earlier in the evening also set up the possibility that the Jets could pull to within four points of the Panthers for the Southeast Division lead by taking two points from the Penguins.
But the Jets were making do without first-line center Bryan Little for the third consecutive game, and they struggled to maintain any sort of consistent offensive pressure on Fleury and the well-rested Penguins, who had not played since Tuesday.
"I can't say I enjoyed the game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "This is what I knew could happen. I thought that we looked like a team that played three games in four nights. It was a typical three-games-in-four-nights game. I'm not going to sit here and criticize my team, if that's what you are asking me to do. That's not going to happen."
Winnipeg did pounce on an early Pittsburgh mistake during the Penguins' first power play when point man Jason Williams fumbled a puck. Jim Slater broke away but clanked a shot off Fleury's crossbar. Moments later, the officials were set to whistle a Winnipeg clearing attempt for icing, but the puck rattled off the end boards into Fleury's crease, nearly allowing Andrew Ladd to stuff the puck past the startled goaltender.
"They came out strong," Fleury said of a Jets team that had the second-most first-period goals in the League this season. "I think the first [period] was a little intense. It was fun, though, to have that action around the net."
Pittsburgh opened the scoring with 6:59 remaining in the first period when Alexandre Picard fired a heavy right-side shot. Pavelec kicked out the rebound to Vitale, who broke free from defenseman Mark Stuart and shoveled the puck past Pavelec. Vitale's goal ended Pavelec's 115:06 shutout streak that dated back to a 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Fleury's work and a tight-checking Pittsburgh defense held the Jets to six shots as the game's midpoint approached. The sellout crowd of 15,004 in the MTS Centre began to squirm and turn restless -- but the fans woke up when Burmistrov tied it at 9:11 by firing Blake Wheeler's cross-slot pass past Fleury.
Pittsburgh limited the Jets to just 12 shots through the first two periods, though Winnipeg did manage to press Fleury when they were able to penetrate the zone. But Pittsburgh closed out the slot for much of the night and finally wore down the Jets, who finished with only seven third-period shots.
"They did a good job of clogging up the middle and forcing us to the outside," Jets forward Tanner Glass said. "They played a really tight defensive game tonight and forced us to the outside a lot of the night."
On the few occasions where the Jets were able to test Fleury, he responded.
"I thought he was outstanding," Bylsma said of his goaltender. "He has played a lot good hockey and has been very good for us. Tonight when this game was in question, he had to make some big saves and then was strong in the third."
Winnipeg resumes play on Tuesday at Colorado, returns home for two more games and then embarks on a January schedule in which they will play nine of 13 games on the road.