Travis Zajac had 30 family members in attendance for his first professional game in Winnipeg. The native from the North End acknowledged it was more than just a usual regular season game.
Leave it to Andrew Ladd to spoil the homecoming.
The Jets captain provided all the scoring Winnipeg would need, netting two goals and helping the Jets (10-9-1) defeat the New Jersey Devils (10-6-4), 3-1, at the MTS Centre.
Blake Wheeler also scored for Winnipeg, who have won five of their last six games. That recent run propelled the Jets to a first place tie with the Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division.
Andrei Loktionov scored New Jersey’s lone goal. The Devils, who just two weeks ago sat atop the Eastern Conference, are now seventh in the standings. New Jersey has lost three straight games and six of their last eight. They have failed to score more than two goals in all six of those losses.
Ladd scored the game-winning goal in the second period, netting his second goal of the game with the teams playing 4-on-4 hockey. Dustin Byfuglien took the puck from behind his own net, skating all the way down into the Devils zone. Johan Hedberg went down to block a shot near the left post, and the Jets defenseman carried the puck behind the net. His wraparound attempt wouldn’t go in, but Ladd was on the crease to clean up the rebound for his 12th goal of the season.
Ondrej Pavelec took over from there, shutting down New Jersey for his third straight win. The Jets goalie stopped 22 shots, but none were bigger than a save on Ilya Kovalchuk late in the third period. With New Jersey trailing, the Devils right wing carried the puck into the Jets end and skated into the slot. He tried to shoot to the blocker side of Pavelec but couldn’t beat the Winnipeg goalie, who made the save.
Pavelec also made another highlight-reel save in the first period, stopping Bobby Butler on an open chance in the slot. With Winnipeg short-handed, Kovalchuk found Butler alone in front of the net. The Devils right wing couldn’t beat Pavelec, who came to the top of his crease and made the right pad save.
Ladd opened the game with a goal just eight seconds into regulation.
Ladd took advantage of an aggressive Marek Zidlicky. The Devils defenseman skated up to the left after the face off, leaving the right side wide open for Ladd. A bouncing puck from the stick of Zach Bogosian hit Zidlicky in the shoulder and found the stick of the Jets captain. He moved in alone on Hedberg, putting the puck on his backhand and tucking it under the Devils goalie.
That broke the Devils record for the fastest goal given up to start a game. The previous record was set on January 24, 1990, when Washington’s Yvon Corriveau scored just 10 seconds into regulation.
Hedberg bounced back from that score, stopping the final seven shots of the period. The Devils goalie finished with 18 saves, but suffered his fourth straight loss.
Loktionov tied the game for New Jersey in the second period.
The Devils center received a pass from Alexei Ponikarovsky and used a burst of speed to get past Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey. He put his shot past the blocker of Pavelec for his second goal of the season.
The Jets won both games of the home-and-home series, snapping a four-game home losing streak with the win tonight. New Jersey has two more games remaining on its road trip, which continues Saturday in Buffalo.
Evander Kane finished with four shots but no points, snapping his eight-game point streak.
The Devils penalty kill, which allowed 13 power-play goals in its last nine games, went 3/3 tonight. It’s the first game without a power-play goal allowed since February 18 against the Ottawa Senators.
Devils defenseman Henrik Tallinder played in his 600th game tonight. He’s played 132 games with New Jersey, recording 25 points (6g, 19a).