The Winnipeg Jets made their 2011-2012 debut at TD Garden last night, in a battle between two of the league’s most storied franchises. Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler, two former Bruins, also made their return to Boston, this time sporting the Winnipeg Blue and White.
In 20 games with the Jets, Stuart has only registered six points in 20 games, but has been more than a defensive force in his own end, bringing much of his usual grit as seen here in Boston as a Bruin.
On the other hand, Wheeler’s struggles playing professional hockey continue, as the forward has only tallied one goal in 22 games this season for the Jets. Wheeler does have 10 assists on the season, giving him 11 points in 22 games, but the skilled winger needs to find the net more often; scoring is his game, and a four goal pace will not cut it.
The goalie matchup featured a 10-4 Tim Thomas against a 7-7-4 Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec had been solid in his previous four outings, compiling a 3-0-1, with hard fought victories over Washington and Philadelphia, while Thomas has continued his excellent play since the beginning of last season.
One former Bruin made his presence felt early, as Wheeler assisted on the first Winnipeg goal. It was a bad turnover by the Bruins fourth line, leaving Dennis Seidenberg against a two on one, in which Wheeler crossed a perfect pass to Evander Kane who beat Thomas with a nifty move.
Mark Stuart, the other returning member to Bruins nation, was on ice for the First Bruins goal, not exactly the start he was looking for. Although they were killing a penalty at the time, Stuart and his linemates struggled to get the puck out, which led to a Zdeno Chara bomb that beat Pavelec. David Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg assisted the goal.
The Jets came extremely close to extending their one goal lead early on in the second period, as Wheeler dished another terrific pass towards linemate Bryan Little, this time only to be deflected away by savvy net-minder Thomas.
The Bruins tied the game on a tremendous up ice rush by Rich Peverley, who once again used his blazing speed to surprise opposing defensemen, and put a move on Winnipeg goaltender Pavelec. Chris Kelly was in perfect position to slam home the rebound, as Pavelec was way out of position; it was Kelly’s eighth goal of the season, and the assist was Peverley’s 100th of his career.
The early season Chris Kelly show continued, as the consistent vet, and early nominee for the Selke award, netted his second goal of the game giving the Bruins their first lead. Benoit Pouliot danced magically around Jets defensemen in the offensive zone, using his big frame to thwart his opponents, and dish the perfect one-time pass to Kelly who slammed it home. Pavelec didn’t even stand a chance as Kelly scored his ninth goal of the season, assisted by Pouliot and Peverley.
Kelly has 10 career goals against Winnipeg/Atlanta, the most versus any franchise.
Both teams hit a bit of a lull during the start of third period, as neither could come up with any real chances. Stuart made a nice play midway through the third period, breaking up a Boston three on two with a strong stick lift of Tyler Seguin; Stuart showed tremendous strength throughout this game, playing impressive in zone hockey from start to finish.
The bruins came within inches of putting the game away, as Seguin jumped all over a loose puck, created by a strong Patrice Bergeron fore-check. Seguin hit iron though, and the lead remained 3-2; it might have been the loudest iron stinger I’ve heard all season at the Garden.
An empty netter for Brad Marchand won the game for the Bruins, coming at the 18:51 mark of the period.
Overall, it was a hard fought victory for the Bruins, and a decent return for former Bruins Stuart and Wheeler. Next the team will face Toronto up in Canada Wednesday night.
Mark Stuart on his return to Boston:
Blake Wheeler on his return to Boston:
Chris Kelly on the victory: