By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Michael Hutchinson didn’t think it was a huge deal that he arrived in Winnipeg seven hours before making a rare appearance in net for the Jets.
Hutchinson made 23 saves in his first NHL start of the season to help the Jets defeat the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Tuesday.
Both teams let their starting goaltenders — ranked first and second in the NHL for wins — have a night off after they took part in last weekend’s all-star festivities in Tampa Bay.
Hutchinson was replacing Connor Hellebuyck after his own all-star appearance, but in the AHL marquee game Monday in Utica, N.Y. He said he took a 7 a.m. flight through Chicago, slept on the plane and got into Winnipeg just before Noon.
“It’s my eighth year of pro hockey and I’ve never played in an all-star game before,” Hutchinson said after notching his 100th NHL game. “They don’t happen every year.
“So who knows, I might never get another chance to play in one. So I felt it was a good opportunity where I could make it and do both. I felt I could have success in both games.”
Hutchinson had been sent to the Manitoba Moose after the Jets’ training camp and admitted after his recent recall that he was upset with the move.
“You always have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder with the way the season’s been going, but when you’re out there you don’t think about it at all,” he said after the game.
Patrik Laine scored his team-leading 23rd goal of the season for the Jets (30-13-8). Kyle Connor and Bryan Little also scored and Blake Wheeler supplied a pair of assists.
Rookie forward Matthew Peca scored for Tampa Bay (34-13-3), which had its three-game winning streak snapped.
Louis Domingue was playing his 10th game of the season in place of league-leading goalie Andrei Vasilevsky and stopped 34 shots.
The game marked the first of 10 straight home games for the Jets, who have now won seven straight at Bell MTS Place (18-3-1).
The Lightning had a welcome addition to the roster with defenceman Victor Hedman back for his first game since injuring a knee on Jan. 11. He was expected to miss three to six weeks and had sat out five games.
Hedman, who played 25 minutes, said that he felt good, although expected better. His teammates were happy to see him back at the lower end of the initial prognosis.
“He’s a guy you can’t replace,” forward Tyler Johnson said. “We thought it was going to be a lot worse, and then you see him come back at three weeks. He’s a guy that works extremely hard, he rehabs hard.”
The Jets were starting a stretch without defenceman Jacob Trouba, who’s out six to eight weeks with an ankle injury.
Playing his fourth NHL game this season, Peca took a slick pass from Brayden Point and put a shot past Hutchinson with 29 seconds left in the first period. Peca had been invited to the AHL all-star game, but decided not to go.
Winnipeg got a two-man advantage early in the second and Laine scored 35 seconds later at 3:30 to even it up 1-1. It was his 12th power-play goal of the season. The Jets were 1 for 4 on the power play and the Lightning 0 for 4.
Connor scored his 16th when he jammed the puck in during a scramble in front of the net at 8:35 of the second.
Little’s goal off a rebound with 5:25 left in the third had the crowd roaring.
Jets coach Paul Maurice wasn’t making any predictions about Hutchinson’s role down the road, saying his team’s depth in the crease is key.
“The backup role is very unforgiving so you need to go in and have success,” he said. “(Hutchinson) was here when we got real young for a couple years and it was tough standing in between the pipes certain nights and his numbers reflected that. Now, he got to play behind a pretty good team tonight, as well, and against a good team and he played well.”
The Jets hosts Vegas on Thursday and the Lightning travel to Calgary for a game the same day.