Little comes up big for Jets in 5-2 win

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[December 19, 2015]  WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The Winnipeg Jets got a whole lot from Bryan Little and his two linemates Friday night.

The center scored two first-period goals and added an assist and right winger Blake Wheeler supplied four assists as the Jets knocked off the struggling New York Rangers 5-2 at the MTS Centre.

Little's 11th and 12th goals of the season staked the Jets to an early 2-0 lead in a span of 2:31, and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien scored his ninth and fellow blue-liner Tyler Myers his third for the Jets (15-15-2) in the second period.

Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who patrols the wing to the left of Little, scored into the empty net with just over a minute left in the game, his ninth goal of the season, and chipped in an assist.

The Little-Ladd-Wheeler trio combined for nine points, a colossal improvement from the four it had the previous four games.

"It definitely felt that we were struggling to get some offense. Even our chances haven't come that easy in the last couple of weeks," Little said. "Tonight against this team, we were going and getting chances all night. I mean, we could have had a couple of more, too."

Wheeler set up both goals by Little, fed Myers for the crucial fourth goal late in the second period and then slid the puck to Ladd for the empty-netter.

Winnipeg led 3-1 and 4-2 at the period breaks.

The Rangers (19-11-4) got their goals from center J.T. Miller, his sixth of the season, and defenseman Dan Boyle, his third, on the power play at 14:12 of the second period to push New York to within one.

"I thought we were ready to play from the drop of the puck. We were just quicker all over the ice," Little said. "Even though we gave up that power play goal -- that was kind of a bad bounce -- we were a lot more aggressive and we were pressuring them more. Everything we wanted to do out there we did tonight."

Ladd said the line needed to see its hard work pay off.

"Just confidence-wise, it's nice to see some pucks go into the net. I think for any line, it's nice to see some results," he said.

Just two minutes after Boyle scored, Myers snuck in from the blue line, took the pass from Wheeler and snapped a shot by New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist to restore the two-goal cushion.

"I thought tonight we played a really good 60 (minutes). I thought we struggled with that earlier in the year. Tonight was a really good, consistent effort," said Myers, whose club had lost three of its last four games.

Lundqvist had a hectic night, turning aside 31 shots. Across the ice, rookie netminder Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for Winnipeg.

Lundqvist wasn't particularly sharp in the first period but atoned for his mistakes in the second with 16 stops to keep the Rangers within reach. He was at his best thwarting a breakaway by Jets center Mark Schiefele and then flashing his glove to rob center Mathieu Perreault from the low slot as the Jets enjoyed a two-man advantage.

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Boyle scored on the power play shortly after, but that's as close as the Rangers came.

"We had a pretty energetic bench and we knew that could have been a huge turning point for us. We come back and get a power play goal ourselves and it's a one-goal game," Rangers defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh said. "They get that next punch on us and it puts us back down two and that's when we have to push and take a couple more chances and exceed our structure trying to be creative and make some plays happen. That's not the style we want to play, playing from behind, playing a little run and gun."

The loss was the second in as many nights for the Rangers, who fell 5-2 to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.

New York is just 3-8-2 in its last 13 games dating to Nov. 25.

"At this point, it doesn't matter why or what's going on, we're just not playing great hockey and we just need to essentially build our confidence back up and start from scratch," Rangers center Derek Stepan said. "There's no sense in beating it up any more. I know this group has good character and they understand, and I think one of our best qualities is we're tough on ourselves. We have to loosen the grip a little bit and start building our team back up."

NOTES: Rangers C Derek Stepan (broken ribs) returned to the New York lineup, and D Dan Girardi (knee) and D Kevin Klein (oblique muscle) remained sidelined. ... New York called up G Magnus Hellberg from the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL to back up G Henrik Lundqvist. G Antti Raanta took a slap shot from Minnesota D Marco Scandella to the head Thursday and it's not clear when he'll return. ... The Jets had LW Matt Halischuk and RW Joel Armia in the lineup, both making their season debuts after being called up Thursday from the AHL's Manitoba Moose. Struggling LW/C Adam Lowry was demoted Wednesday. ... Winnipeg RW Chris Thorburn has taken over the franchise lead in games played (595), split between the Atlanta Thrashers (2007-11) and Jets (2011-15). ... Coming into the game, D Dustin Byfuglien had at least one shot in all 31 games this season. ... Rangers coach Alain Vigneault coach the AHL's Moose for one season (2005-06), and New York assistant Scott Arniel was head coach of the Moose from 2006 to 2010.

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