Streaking Little’s 3-point night leads Jets to win over Maple Leafs
The player Winnipeg Jets fans affectionately refer to as "Big Buff" lived up to the nickname on Saturday.
Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and an assist for the Jets in a 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It’s just confidence, knowing that I can protect the puck and find time and room for somebody else to get open and hopefully they can make it happen afterwards," Byfuglien said.
Byfuglien assisted on the Jets’ (20-12-7) first goal of the game — scored by T.J Galiardi — and scored his ninth of the season with just under 10 minutes left in the second to put the Jets up 3-1.
"I’m playing pretty good. I’m just running with what I’ve got right now and enjoying every minute of it," he said.
Maple Leafs (21-16-3) captain Dion Phaneuf said Byfuglien’s goal was the turning point.
"We got beat on a night where we started the game the way we would have liked to start," said Phaneuf.
Mike Santorelli opened the scoring for Toronto early in the second after batting the puck out of the air to make it 1-0.
"We (then) seemed to have breakdown after break down and the next thing its 3-1 for them and the momentum has shifted," Phaneuf said.
The Leafs were certainly feeling the effects at the end of a grueling, season-high seven-game road trip, in which they finished with just two wins.
"This has been a terrible trip for our team," Phaneuf, said.
"It’s been a busy week with a lot of travel and some tough teams on the road," Leafs goaltender James Reimer added. "Tonight, maybe we were a little tired, but I don’t want to give that as an excuse. We are all professionals and we got to find a way to win these games when we are tired."
Somewhat lost in the mix of Byfuglien’s fine play was the milestone reached by his defensive partner Ben Chiarot.
Chiarot, the rookie defenseman who started the year with the Jets’ AHL affiliate in St. John’s, scored his first career NHL goal.
"I’m obviously pretty happy about it," said Chiarot. "That was one of the keys in our game plan tonight, getting pucks to the net. It was a great faceoff by Little there and I just put it on net."
"I’m proud of him, he’s really earned it," said Byfuglien. "He’s had to go through a lot playing with me."
Michael Hutchinson was solid when called upon for the Jets, making 20 saves for his 10th win of the season. Reimer fell to 6-7-0 with the loss after allowing five goals on 40 shots.
The Jets snapped a two-game skid.
"It was a big game for us, you never really want to lose three in a row," said Galiardi, who scored his first goal of the season. "We weren’t happy with the way things were going there, but we showed tonight we can bounce right back."
Toronto was without Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul and Peter Holland, all out with injuries.
Winnipeg played without its top four defensemen– Mark Stuart, Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom and Jacob Trouba– as well as forward Evander Kane.
Santorelli opened the scoring for Toronto 2:19 into the second period, but the Jets responded just 1:10 later as Galiardi scored.
Little added his team-leading 15th goal of the season in the third period and Chiarot made it 5-1 with 9:05 remaining.