Jets end Wild's winning streak in new border battle

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2011 - 1:10 AM

The fans in Winnipeg did their part by making plenty of noise, and the two teams played an intense, physical game right to the end.

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - A rivalry has been born 450 miles north of St. Paul.

In a game that made you wish realignment could start tomorrow instead of a year from now, the Wild and Winnipeg Jets were introduced Tuesday night and it wasn't for the faint of heart.

It was fast. It was physical. It was intense. It was exhilarating.

And it was downright deafening, as the 15,004 fans who packed the MTS Centre sounded as if they were 50,004 strong during an eardrum-bursting outcry of incessant, passion-filled noise.

In a battle of attrition, the Jets stopped the Wild's seven-game winning streak when Bryan Little scored a power-play goal with five minutes left for a 2-1 victory.

"Definitely felt like [a rivalry]," said Wild center Kyle Brodziak, who played with an edge and was in the middle of a game-ending scrum. "That was a hard-fought game. There was definitely no love lost. Unfortunately, they got the best of us tonight."

Added coach Mike Yeo, "You could see the two teams don't like each other."

The game featured end-to-end action, big hits, a sensational goaltending duel, one heck of a fight when Clayton Stoner jumped to partner Greg Zanon's defense after he was crushed by Tanner Glass, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard leaving in front of a trail of blood.

A bent Bouchard was driven nose first into the ledge between the boards and glass behind the Winnipeg net with 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining by Zach Bogosian, but the Wild couldn't tie the score on the power play.

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who starred with 34 saves, saved his best for last when he robbed Brodziak from the goalmouth with 45 seconds to play.

The frantic pace might have been pleasing for the fans, but not Yeo. The Wild turned lots of pucks over in the offensive zone, and with two forwards trapped, the Jets routinely attacked with speed.

"We were pretty loose in a lot of areas," Yeo said. "It led to a little too much open ice for them and a little too much back and forth. When you do that, you turn it into a 50-50 game."

With the score tied 1-1 after Guillaume Latendresse, in his surprise return after 15 games out because of a concussion, and Bogosian exchanged goals, Stoner airmailed a puck into the seats for a delay-of-game penalty.

With one second left on the power play, Dustin Byfuglien's snap pass landed right on Little's stick at the side of the net. He buried it, and the Jets, who have won all five home games this month, beat the NHL's best road team. It was the Wild's first road loss since Nov. 12.

"My foot slipped. ... But at the end of the day, we didn't play good enough," said Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, who made 25 saves. "It was not good enough for our standards."

Cal Clutterbuck agreed, saying, "Definitely, we've got another, if not two other levels. We were not very good. We made a lot of soft plays, and that's uncharacteristic of us. I don't think they got our best."

Still, it was a tremendous hockey game, and the new rivalry will continue in St. Paul on Feb. 16 -- and hopefully five to six times a year if the NHL Players' Association ratifies the NHL's realignment plan.

It was an emotionally exhausting loss, but the Wild better forget quickly. The high-powered Chicago Blackhawks invade the X on Wednesday night.

"We've played a lot of good games in a row here," Yeo said. "There does come a time where, like it or not, it's difficult to keep your urgency level up and keep the same focus going into every game.

"I didn't feel like we had it tonight."

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