WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets spent much of the past week idle and watching their Eastern Conference brethren gain on them, catch up to them and apply significant back pressure.
When they finally have a chance to resume their pursuit of a playoff spot, the Jets had the Dallas Stars arrive in Winnipeg owning a six-game win streak and a 10-0-1 run that had carried them to the top of the Pacific Division.
But the Jets (33-29-8) began a three-game stay at home in impressive fashion, taking out the Stars 5-2 in front of another MTS Centre sellout crowd of 15.004.
The loss ended the Stars' 11-game point streak, and Dallas (39-26-5) lost for the first time on the road since Feb. 18. Ending the Stars' streak is the latest such occurrence for the Jets, who have had Boston, Buffalo, Colorado, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Toronto all see long undefeated or winning streaks end on Winnipeg ice this season.
"Usually these [win streaks] come down with a thud," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "They usually come down pretty hard, knock the wind out of you and maybe wake you up. I'd be lying to you guys if I said that at some point we didn't talk about this [possibility] as a coaching group."
The Jets remained in the Eastern Conference's 10th slot, one point behind the Buffalo Sabres, who lost 5-4 in a shootout at home to Colorado. The Washington Capitals, who visit Winnipeg on Friday night, lead the Jets by four points.
"That's going to be the task now," Jets coach Claude Noel said of meeting the Capitals. "It becomes a huge game. We'll look forward to that. We'll go at it tomorrow and look forward to Friday. It should be beautiful."
The two points come at a most opportune time for a Winnipeg club struggling to remain a player in the Eastern Conference. With only two games over the past nine days, both losses during a quick two-game Western Canada sojourn, the Jets had watched the Florida Panthers' grip on the Southeast Division lead grow to seven points. The revitalized Capitals and Sabres had pushed the Jets out of eighth place, while the Tampa Bay Lightning moved within a point of Winnipeg prior to the Jets' meeting with Dallas.
Gulutzan elected to rest workhorse goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who owns a 128:32 shutout streak after blanking Minnesota 1-0 on Tuesday night. Gulutzan started Richard Bachman, who struggled with rebound control from the get-go against the Jets. Bachman surrendered Winnipeg's five goals on 28 shots.
"It's real tough to swallow, and I've just got to be better," Bachman said. "We just kind of let that second period slip away, in large part [because] I didn't feel extremely sharp tonight."
Winnipeg's four-goal outburst in the second period turned a 1-0 lead into a blowout, as the Jets cruised to their 22nd home win, eighth-most in the League. Nik Antropov, Evander Kane and Eric Fehr built the lead against Bachman before Andrew Ladd added two insurance goals late in the second period. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made 28 saves for Winnipeg, and Blake Wheeler's two assists extended his point streak to six games.
"We caught them on a back-to-back and maybe took advantage a little bit," Noel said. "I thought we played a pretty good game."
Dallas got two goals by Loui Eriksson, one of the lone bright spots for Gulutzan.
"I thought our effort wasn't up to par and what it needed to be," Gulutzan said. "We just didn't have a lot of resolve in the second [period]."
The Jets built a quick 1-0 lead when their fourth line connected just 2:21 after the opening faceoff. Antti Miettinen dug a puck out from along the left boards and moved it to Antropov in the left circle. Antropov's high snap shot climbed over Bachman's right shoulder and under the crossbar.
Winnipeg expanded its lead just 79 seconds into the second period when Alexander Burmistrov's high right-side shot handcuffed Bachman and the rebound caromed out into the slot. Kane fought off Stars defenseman Trevor Daley, grabbed the loose puck and converted for a two-goal lead.
The Jets blew open the game halfway through the period when they ripped off two strikes in a 47-second span. Adam Pardy mishandled the puck at the point inside the Winnipeg zone. Fehr stripped Pardy of the puck, pulled away and skated down the right boards before blasting a right-circle shot that beat Bachman's glove for a 3-0 lead.
The goal, just the second for Fehr in a season disrupted by offseason shoulder surgery and multiple trips to the press box as a healthy scratch, was his first since Jan. 10. Noel inserted Fehr into the lineup in place of injured forward Chris Thorburn.
"I like to think I've kind of done it before," Fehr said of scoring. "It definitely felt good."
Ladd turned the game into a rout when a scramble in front of Bachman left the goaltender prone on the ice. Ladd snuck away from a pack of players, gathered the puck and roofed the Jets' fourth goal. He then used the Jets' second power play and a big Dustin Byfuglien shot to put the Stars into a 5-0 hole. Byfuglien unleashed a heavy shot from just inside the blue line that Ladd tipped through Bachman's pads 13 seconds into the man advantage.
"A couple just hit off my head, just weird bounces," Bachman said of his evening. "Obviously, you just want to make those saves, especially at this time of year. I think there were times when I was tracking it well, reading it well, and there were other times where it just wasn't clicking."
Eriksson got the Stars on the board late in the second period and scored again late in the third.
"It's nice to have a game like that," Ladd said. "You feel like you can control your own destiny."