WINNIPEG – The MTS Centre is quickly becoming one of the NHL’s most daunting destinations for visiting teams.
The Jets closed out a five-game home stand with a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, their seventh victory in their last eight games at their new home.
“If we can get this to be a tough place to play in, which it obviously is, then it’s going to be huge for us,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who had three assists. “I think our biggest challenge is going to try to be to play that same game on the road.”
The Jets (13-11-4) extended their season-high win streak to four games, and have won all three meetings this season between the Southeast Division rivals.
Dustin Byfuglien scored 34 seconds into the first period and the Jets never looked back. The big defenceman banked a shot from behind the goal-line off the back of Carolina goaltender Cam Ward’s leg and into the net.
The Jets built a 4-0 lead after two periods and held on as the Hurricanes struck twice in the third.
Chris Mason, whose three wins this season have all come against Carolina, made 23 saves for the Jets, the best coming on an Anthony Stewart breakaway in the second period.
“I wasn’t getting a ton of shots there,” Mason said. “To makes those saves was a good opportunity for myself to try to help the guys.”
Mason is usually Winnipeg’s backup, but is very effective against the Hurricanes, stopping 61 of 65 shots in those three wins.
“That’s a beautiful thing when you can have that type of goaltending,” said Jets coach Claude Noel. “That’s really what gives you an opportunity to win every night.”
Carolina (9-18-4) lost its seventh game in eight outings. The Hurricanes were forced to dress only 19 players after leading scorer Jeff Skinner was scratched with flu-like symptoms.
Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, who was behind the bench for his sixth game since replacing the fired Paul Maurice, said his team dug itself too deep a hole in the first period.
“The guys don’t quit,” Muller said. “They keep battling through it. But it’s the old saying: catch-up hockey is losing hockey.”
Muller pulled Ward in the second period after allowing his fourth goal on 30 shots. Mike Murphy came on and stopped all seven shots he faced.
Evander Kane made it 2-0 less than five minutes after Byfuglien’s goal with his 15th of the season on a sharp-angle shot through traffic from the left boards.
Tim Stapleton and Bryan Little added power-play goals 68 seconds apart in the second period to chase Ward from the game.
The Jets were coming off an emotional win on Tuesday night over Boston that snapped the Bruins’15-game points streak, and could have been caught looking ahead to a Saturday night date in Detroit. But Wheeler said the team did a good job of focusing on the Hurricanes.
“It’s pretty easy to get up for the Stanley Cup champs, and playing in Detroit, too,” he said. “It was one of those games where…if you let those guys with a little bit of time and space all of a sudden you’re looking at the wrong end of the stick.”
Justin Faulk scored his first goal of the season on a point shot that was redirected to get the Hurricanes on the board in the third period, and Brandon Sutter added a power-play goal to make it 4-2.
Newly-acquired defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, who came from Montreal in a Friday morning trade for Tomas Kaberle, had assists on both of Carolina’s goals.
“I’m happy to put some points on the board,” Spacek said, “but if you don’t win it doesn’t matter. I’d rather take two points for the team than my two points.”
The Hurricanes have three days off before taking on the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday.
Notes: Jets forward Nik Antropov, who was expected to return from a lower-body injury, missed his fourth straight game… Jets defenceman Randy Jones returned to the lineup after missing 15 games with a lower-body injury…The Jets raised $7,781 and collected more than 2,500 toys at the game for the Christmas Miracle Toy and Cash Drive.