PITTSBURGH — The Winnipeg Jets are finding their footing at the season’s midway point. The short-handed Pittsburgh Penguins are still searching for traction.
Mark Scheifele scored twice, including the go-ahead goal late in the second period and the Jets raced by the Penguins 4-1 on Friday night.
“That was probably about one the best games we’ve played all year,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said. “It really was, in terms of how we want to play and how you can be successful moving forward. Certainly no passengers tonight. Everyone contributed.”
Scheifele’s first goal with 2:02 left in the second off a pretty feed by Blake Wheeler put the Jets ahead to stay. Nikolaj Ehlers doubled the advantage 22 seconds later to send surging Winnipeg to its seventh win its last eight games.
“Those are obviously big,” Scheifele said. “Then in the third period, we buckled down, we did the right thing. We got the puck deep. … If we play like that, we’re hard to beat.”
David Rittich stopped 22 shots for the Jets, who dominated the depleted Penguins, particularly in front of the Pittsburgh crease.
Drew O’Connor scored his second goal of the season for the Penguins but Pittsburgh had trouble keeping up with the Jets. Missing injured defensemen Kris Letang and Jeff Petry and with Marcus Pettersson out sick, Pittsburgh allowed the Jets to control play for most of the night.
“I don’t think it’s the standard that’s been set here by our group,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I know we’re capable of a lot more regardless of who’s in our lineup.”
Dustin Tokarski, who earned the win in relief of Casey DeSmith against Vancouver on Tuesday, played well in his first start with the Penguins but faced a steady barrage. Tokarski finished with 36 saves for Pittsburgh, which has just three wins over its last 11 games and sits in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings halfway through the season.
The Penguins have made the playoffs 16 straight years, the longest active streak in major North American professional sports. They have endured an uneven first half in which they have two losing streaks of at least six games and a stretch in which they won 12 of 14.
“I think right now, it’s been a tough schedule but I think we’ve just got to keep at it,” Kapanen said. “We’ve got to stick to our game. … Today wasn’t our best.”
Winnipeg has no such issues and hardly looked tired while playing its second game in two nights.
Wheeler scored on the power play after a scramble in front 11:19 into the first to give Winnipeg the lead.
It might have been even worse if not for a pair of calls that didn’t count. Dylan Samberg’s redirect was overturned on replay after the Penguins successfully challenged that the Jets entered the zone offside. Neal Pionk had a goal waved off by officials who ruled that Pierre-Luc DuBois interfered with Tokarski.
The reprieve allowed the Penguins to tie it when O’Conner flipped a cross-ice feed from Kasperi Kapanen over Rittich.
It stemmed the tide briefly but couldn’t stop it. Scheifele’s first goal put the Jets in front to stay late in the second and his second of the night and 26th of the season 6:39 into the third gave the Jets just their fourth win in their last 20 games against Pittsburgh.
“It was a total buy-in from everybody tonight,” Winnipeg defenseman Dylan Demelo said. “First line, second line, third line, fourth line, we all looked the same without the puck. … It was a great job by everybody and a big two points for us.”
NOTES: Kyle Conner assisted on Ehler’s goal to extend his points streak to nine games (6G, 9A). … Kapanen’s assist was the 100th of his career. … Cole Perfetti tied a career-high with three assists for the Jets.
Jets: Host Arizona on Sunday.
Penguins: At Carolina on Saturday night.
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