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Jets defeat Maple Leafs at home

The SportsXchange

WINNIPEG -- Size kills.

Dustin Byfuglien flicked aside a couple of Toronto Maple Leaf defenders with his (rumored) 265-pound frame late in the second period and calmly fed a cross-crease pass to Kyle Wellwood, who whipped it past goalie James Reimer for the winning goal in a 5-2 Winnipeg Jets victory Tuesday night.

The Jets defenseman was a physical force to be reckoned with all night long and few Leafs players were willing to engage with him in either the defensive or offensive zones.

It was a physical game from the start with a pair of fights in the first period -- a one-sided decision for Winnipeg-born Colton Orr over the Jets' Chris Thorburn and a draw between the two captains, Dion Phaneuf and Andrew Ladd.

"(The physical play) raises the emotion level of your team. You make better decisions when that happens," said Jets coach Claude Noel, before singling out his captain, Ladd, for leading the physical parade for much of the game.

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was brief when asked about Byfuglien's play on the Jets' third goal.

"He's a big guy, he's supposed to play physical. It's a rough game some nights," he said.

Both coaches pointed to the nearly two-minute five-on-three man advantage for the Leafs in the second period as the game's turning point.

"That elevated the emotion level in the game," Noel said. "When we play well, we're very focused to do the right things. It was a selfless game by our players. I think it was one of our better -- if not our best -- home games of the season," he said.

Carlyle said a team simply has to score when it has a two-man advantage for that long.

"It deteriorated from there," he said. "We're doing a lot of circling, we're not engaging from a physical standpoint. The try is there but the intelligent try is not."

The Jets continued their recent trend of scoring the opening goal when Nik Antropov deflected Byfuglien's point shot on a power play six minutes into the game. Leafs defenseman Mark Fraser was off for interference at the time.

Leafs center Phil Kessel silenced the 15,003 at the MTS Centre before most of them were back in their seats after the first intermission with a shot that fooled Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec -- Kessel's stick broke, resulting in a knuckler -- at 38 seconds.

But the crowd was back in full throat just 25 seconds later when Blake Wheeler slapped home a rebound at 1:03.

After Wellwood's goal put the Jets ahead 3-1, any doubt that may have remained was put to rest by Evander Kane, who left a couple of Leafs in the snow outside their blueline and ripped a wrist shot past Reimer midway through the third period.

Even though Reimer is from Morweena, Manitoba, a couple hours north of Winnipeg, Jets fans showed him no mercy, chanting his last name at several points during the game.

That was the last the fans would see of him as he was replaced by backup Ben Scrivens after that goal, marking the first time the Jets have sent a goaltender to the showers early all season.

Carlyle was quick to defend his goaltender, saying he gave him the hook "because of the embarrassment with the people in front of him."

Blake Wheeler turned the game into a rout at the 12:53 mark of the third period with a shot between Scrivens' legs on a partial breakaway.

The Leafs replied at 13:14 with Kessel's second goal of the night but by then it was far too little, far too late.

Wheeler said the team had a meeting Tuesday morning, during which they discussed the mental and physical requirements of playing that evening.

"When you get everybody playing for each other, that's contagious. That's how you win games and that's how you get over the hump and become a winning team," he said.

"We're getting into a little groove here and with some success, confidence is going to build. When everybody is buying in, it's amazing how far it can go. It takes people willing to do it. If they don't, it doesn't matter what you say."

Antropov had a goal and two assists for his first three-point game of the season. He was named the game's first star.

When asked what got into Antropov, Noel quipped, "Whatever it was, we're going to bottle it."

NOTES: After creating an almost mythical reputation for inhospitality at the MTS Centre last year, the Jets came into Tuesday's game with a 4-6-0 record at the MTS Centre, dead last in the league. On the flipside, the Jets have completely reversed their former sad-sack fortunes on the road with an 8-5-2 mark. Last season, the Jets' road record was largely cited for the team falling out of playoff contention. ... The Leafs, meanwhile, have one of the best road records at 9-5-0. ... After being benched in the Jets' previous game in New Jersey and criticized last week for laughing on the bench, Jets C Alexander Burmistrov was a healthy scratch. Joining him in the press box was D Paul Postma. Not in the lineup for the Leafs were D Mike Komisarek, C David Steckel and D John-Michael Liles. ... The Jets' much-criticized penalty killing unit, last in the league until recently, has not surrendered a goal in eight games, a stretch of 22 shorthanded situations. ... Leafs C Phil Kessel leads all of his teammates in career goals (12), assists (12) and points (24) in 25 games against the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise. ... Leafs C Nazem Kadri became only the third player in the last 21 seasons to record a hat trick for the franchise before his 21st birthday. The others were current Jets forward Nik Antropov and Alex Steen, now with the St. Louis Blues. ... No member of the reborn Winnipeg Jets has scored a hat trick. ... The Jets paid tribute to Stompin' Tom Connors halfway through the third period by playing a live performance of The Hockey Song on the big screen. The crowd clapped along and roared after the last note.

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