WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck was brilliant as he backstopped the Winnipeg Jets to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Hellebuyck stopped 35 of 36 shots as Winnipeg snapped a five-game losing streak.
Nino Niederreiter and Mark Scheifele scored for Winnipeg (31-14-5) before a sellout crowd of 15,225 at Canada Life Centre.
Tristan Jarry made 29 saves for Pittsburgh (23-19-7).
"They are two great goaltenders, and obviously Bucky (Hellebuyck) stood on his head,” Niederreiter said. “He helped us win that game big time in the second period. They had a big push and we just let them play. But then, we took back over in the third.”
Bryan Rust was the only Penguin to beat Hellebuyck.
“Obviously, their goalie played really well and when that’s happening, we’ve got to keep generating chances,” Jarry said. “We’ve got to keep going to the net and keep pucks on the net, and keep going hard and that’s how we’re going to get rewarded.”
The Jets avenged a 3-0 loss to Jarry and the Pens in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
“Obviously we didn’t start the game the way we needed to,” said Erik Karlsson, who assisted on the Rust goal.
“The first period cost us today, and then it’s tough when you only score one goal. Jars (Jarry) played great for us. We gave up some great looks for them and they created looks for themselves. He was there to bail us out and it’s unfortunate, like I said, we can't find a way to score more goals to give ourselves a better chance.”
Winnipeg had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period when Niederreiter backhanded a rebound off the boards past Jarry from the side of the net. Nate Schmidt’s point shot had missed the net and hit the backboards. It snapped a 15-game scoring drought for Niederreiter.
“It’s definitely huge,” he said. “I had plenty of chances tonight. We could have won the game high, but we also know that the second period wasn’t good enough to just let them get back in the game. Overall, we had enough chances to win.”
But snapping the losing streak was more important.
“It’s all about winning hockey games right now,” Niederreiter said. “Obviously, when you go toward making a push and putting yourself in a great playoff spot, you need to make sure you win close hockey games.
"There are not going to be any easy games. Pretty soon there are going to be teams that are not in the playoffs anymore and those are the games that will be crucial to win because they don’t play with a lot of structure. It’s up to us to make sure we bear down on what we do.”
Scheifele scored on a one-timer on a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers on a 2-on-1 to open the scoring in the first.
“It was huge to come out the way we did,” Ehlers said. “I think we played really well in that first period. We skated, we worked hard. I think we shot the puck and made it hard for them to get anything into our zone. But obviously, the second period wasn’t good enough. Third period, we came back and got the two points, which is huge. There’s always things we can clean up, but overall we deserve to get the two points tonight.”
The Penguins pulled to within 2-1 in the second period when Rust scored.
“We didn’t establish the game we wanted to play,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “We gave up I don’t know how many odd-man rushes in the first period. We were careless with the puck. That’s not a game that’s conducive to winning.
“We were coming into a building and playing against a team that we knew was going to play with urgency — they dropped five games in a row. … I don’t think we matched the urgency off the start that we needed to, and I don’t think we played a smart game like we needed to, so we didn’t set ourselves up to play the game that we needed to win.
"I thought that we responded in the second period. I thought we played hard, but we were chasing the game.”
It was Pittsburgh’s second straight loss.
Winnipeg all-star winger Kyle Connor played in his 500th game. … Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby had a nine-game point streak (six goals, 11 points) snapped. … Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon served the second of a three-game suspension for hitting Pittsburgh forward Noel Acciari in the head when the two teams played each other on Tuesday. Acciari remained out with a concussion that had resulted from that hit.
Jets: Host the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday.
Penguins: Host the Florida Panthers on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2024.
Jim Bender, The Canadian Press