WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Michael Hutchinson wasn’t about to miss his chance to play in an All-Star Game, albeit in the minor leagues.
Even if that meant arriving in Winnipeg only seven hours before a rare appearance in net for the Jets.
Hutchinson made 23 saves in his first NHL start of the season to help Winnipeg beat the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Tuesday night.
Both teams let their starting goaltenders – ranked first and second in wins – have a night off after they took part in last weekend’s NHL All-Star festivities at Tampa Bay.
Hutchinson was replacing Connor Hellebuyck after his own All-Star appearance – in the AHL showcase Monday at Utica, New York. Hutchinson said he took a 7 a.m. flight through Chicago, slept on the plane and got into Winnipeg just before noon.
”It’s my eighth year of pro hockey and I’ve never played in an All-Star Game before,” he said after his 100th NHL game. ”They don’t happen every year.
”So who knows? I might never get another chance to play in one. So I felt it was a good opportunity where I could make it and do both. I felt I could have success in both games.”
Hutchinson was sent to the Manitoba Moose after training camp and acknowledged after his recent recall that he was upset by the move.
”You always have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder with the way the season’s been going, but when you’re out there you don’t think about it at all,” he said after the game.
Patrik Laine scored his team-leading 23rd goal for the Jets (30-13-8). Kyle Connor and Bryan Little also scored, and Blake Wheeler had two assists.
It was the first of 10 straight home games for the Jets, who have won seven in a row at Bell MTS Place and are 18-3-1 there this season.
Rookie forward Matthew Peca scored for Tampa Bay (34-13-3), which had its three-game winning streak snapped.
Louis Domingue played his 10th game of the season for the Lightning in place of NHL-leading goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and stopped 34 shots.
The Lightning had a welcome addition to the roster with defenseman Victor Hedman back for his first game since injuring a knee on Jan. 11. He was expected to miss three to six weeks and had sat out five games.
Hedman, who played 25 minutes, said he felt good but expected better. His teammates were happy to see him back.
”He’s a guy you can’t replace,” forward Tyler Johnson said. ”We thought it was going to be a lot worse, and then you see him come back at three weeks. He’s a guy that works extremely hard. He rehabs hard.”
The Jets were starting a stretch without defenseman Jacob Trouba, who’s out six to eight weeks with an ankle injury.
Playing his fourth NHL game this season, Peca took a slick pass from Brayden Point and put a shot past Hutchinson with 29 seconds left in the first period. Peca had been invited to the AHL All-Star Game, but decided not to go. He was called up from Syracuse on Jan. 21 for the first time this season after playing 10 games with the Lightning last year.
Winnipeg got a two-man advantage early in the second after Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn went off for tripping at 2:43 and teammate Chris Kunitz followed with a delay of game 12 seconds later.
Wheeler sent a cross-ice pass to Laine in the middle of the faceoff circle 35 seconds later and he ripped a high shot past Domingue at 3:30 to tie it 1-all. It was his 12th power-play goal of the season.
Eight seconds after another Winnipeg power play was over, Connor scored his 16th when he jammed the puck in during a scramble in front at 8:35.
Little’s goal off a rebound with 5:25 left in the third had the crowd roaring. Tampa Bay soon went on a power play, but Alex Killorn rang a shot off the post.
Jets coach Paul Maurice wasn’t making any predictions about Hutchinson’s role down the road, saying his team’s depth in the crease is key.
”The backup role is very unforgiving, so you need to go in and have success,” he said. ”(Hutchinson) was here when we got real young for a couple years and it was tough standing in between the pipes certain nights and his numbers reflected that. Now, he got to play behind a pretty good team tonight, as well, and against a good team and he played well.”
NOTES: The Jets were 1 for 4 on the power play and the Lightning 0 for 4.
Lightning: At the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
Jets: Host the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
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