WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) A blowout win over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions was more important to Blake Wheeler than his own outstanding performance.
Wheeler scored three of Winnipeg’s five first-period goals and added an assist in the third as the Jets routed the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1 on Sunday night.
”It’s all about getting two points. I think we’ve got every guy pushing in that direction,” he said.
Brendan Lemieux scored his first career goal for Winnipeg on a slap shot from the point at 12:20 of the third. The son of Claude Lemieux made his NHL debut Oct. 20 after being called up from the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.
”It feels great,” he said. ”Obviously, really fortunate to have been able to get one and really excited. Every day I’m up here has been a blessing and I’m just trying to run with it.”
Andrew Copp, Joel Armia and Mark Scheifele also scored for the Jets, who chased Matt Murray early. Connor Hellebuyck made 31 saves.
Winnipeg (5-3-2) scored three times in a span of 34 seconds late in the first to break it open.
The Penguins (7-5-1), playing back-to-back road games after losing 2-1 in Minnesota on Saturday, were on their heels from the start and didn’t score until Evgeni Malkin’s fifth of the season late in the second period.
”We were fortunate to get the day off yesterday,” Wheeler said. ”It’s tough when you’re playing a back-to-back and the back end of a three (games) in four (days). It takes a little bit of time to get going and luckily we had our legs early.”
The Jets have played their best hockey in the first period this season, outscoring opponents 16-8.
Pittsburgh has been outscored 21-10 in the opening 20 minutes.
”If I had an answer, we’d probably cure it,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
Copp opened the scoring with his first of the season on a short pass in the slot from linemate Sean Matthias at 1:20.
The Jets remained on the attack but Murray stymied them until 13:58, when Scheifele fed Wheeler at the side of the net for his second goal of the season.
He added another at 17:44 and Murray barely had time to take his stance again before Armia made it 4-0 at 18:07. Murray was pulled and lost in regulation for the second time this season.
”It’s disappointing,” Sullivan said. ”We talk about doing the right things. We talk about managing the puck the right way. We talk about staying on the right side of people and then we go out and our actions are just the opposite.”
The hats rained down 11 seconds after that when Wheeler made it 5-0 at 18:18 with a goal against Murray’s replacement, Casey DeSmith.
The Jets lost 2-1 in overtime Thursday at Pittsburgh, one of two overtime losses for them this week following a win at Minnesota.
Winnipeg returned to Hellebuyck’s hot hand in goal. He has all five Jets wins this season.
Pittsburgh tried to regroup in the second period and outshot the Jets 15-4, thanks partly to a string of minor penalties on Winnipeg. But the Penguins not get one past Hellebuyck until Malkin scored his power-play goal at 17:02.
Scheifele scored in the third when he one-timed a pass from Wheeler during a 4-on-3 power play at 10:28 to make it 6-1. Lemieux’s goal about two minutes later completed the scoring.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice is happy with the way his team has played defense recently, but acknowledged Sunday night was an anomaly.
”Our gap was really good defensively so we could knock some pucks down and see the passes develop in front of you because you’re in the right place to start,” he said. ”(But) the game at 5-0 becomes a different animal.”
Penguins: At the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night.
Jets: At the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.
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