WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The Colorado Avalanche’s struggles continue.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler scored one goal and set up four others as Winnipeg defeated the Avs (5-2) in a key NHL Western Conference contest before what is believed to be another sold-out crowd of 15,321 at Bell MTS Place on Friday night.
It was Colorado’s fifth straight loss.
Jets sniper Patrick Laine fired home his eighth goal of the season on the power play, just 17 seconds after Colorado forward Sheldon Dries was sent off for boarding to give Winnipeg a 4-2 lead. Both Wheeler, who scored an empty-net goal, and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien assisted.
Colorado forward Tyson Jost, who just returned from injury, had cut Winnipeg’s lead to 3-2 at 6:52. He took a long, lead pass from centre Alexander Kerfoot, then beat Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck from about the left faceoff circle. Defenceman Tyson Barrie also assisted.
Earlier, Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers restored Winnipeg’s two-goal lead at 5:42 of the third. Ehlers took a beautiful pass from Wheeler on the open side of the net, then coolly backhanded the puck for his third goal of the season.
Colorado had closed to within one early in the final frame. Defenceman Erik Johnson took a pass from centre Carl Soderberg, walked in and snapped a shot over goalie Hellebuyck’s left shoulder at 2:26. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov also assisted.
There was no scoring in the second period, but the Avs had a glorious chance to pull within 2-1 while killing an interference penalty to Erik Johnson. Dries intercepted a brain-dead, cross-ice pass from Laine and had a clear-cut breakaway from his own blueline. But he shot wide.
Winnipeg jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period. First, they took advantage of an inadvertent delay of game penalty to Colorado defenseman Patrick Nemeth midway through the opening frame. Just eight seconds after Nemeth’s butt hit the penalty box bench, Winnipeg forward Kyle Connor pounced on a rebound in front of the open side of the net and fired home his seventh goal of the season. Forwards Mark Scheifele and Wheeler set that marker up.
Scheifele upped the score, converting a pretty passing play with Wheeler and defenseman Josh Morrissey for the Jets captain’s seventh of the season.
Byfuglien took an ill-advised roughing penalty late in the first but the Jets had the better scoring chances on the penalty kill. Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov had to be sharp on two different close-in chances to keep it a two-goal difference.
It was Winnipeg’s first game since returning from Helsinki, Finland, where they split a two-game NHL Global Series with the lowly Florida Panthers, last weekend.
The Avs travel to Edmonton to the play the Oilers on Sunday.
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