By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Nino Niederreiter has been rewarded for setting up shop in front of opposing netminders.
He knotted a pair of goals from that tough area to lead the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday afternoon.
“I think that’s where my office is,” said Niederreiter, who has 12 goals on the season. “I like to be in the paint.”
Niederreiter gave the Jets a 2-0 lead at 14:38 of the first period when he knocked in a rebound after a wraparound attempt by Adam Lowry.
Niederreiter made it 3-0 at 6:45 of the second period when he tucked in a loose puck after a point shot from Josh Morrissey.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Alex Iafallo also scored for Winnipeg. Matt Boldy and Ryan Hartman replied for Minnesota.
Goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 34 shots for Winnipeg (21-9-4) before a sold-out crowd of 15,325 fans at Canada Life Centre – the team’s first home sellout of the season.
“He made the saves when he needed to, he’s been terrific (over) the last few games,” Niederreiter said. “He’s a big reason why we are successful in the (defensive) zone. He keeps things calm in front of the net.”
Wild netminder Filip Gustavsson made 19 saves before being replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury to start the third period. Fleury stopped nine shots for Minnesota (16-14-4).
The Wild made it a one-goal game just 20 seconds into the third period when Boldy converted a Kirill Kaprizov rebound from in front of a screened Hellebuyck.
Jonsson-Fjallby restored Winnipeg’s two-goal cushion at 2:46 when he fired a shot past Fleury from the side of the net.
“We talk a lot about timely saves and timely goals, we got both today,” said Jets coach Rick Bowness. “(Hellebuyck) made a lot of timely saves and that timely goal – the fourth — was huge for us.”
The Jets have held opponents to three goals or less in a franchise-record 24 consecutive outings and 30 games overall this season, which leads the NHL.
The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Wild.
“I liked that we didn’t quit,” Fleury said. “All of the guys battled hard right to the end. I think we all agree that it wasn’t our best night tonight. The good thing about it is we can forget about it, and we can play a little bit more like we can (on Sunday).”
Fleury added that Gustavsson came out because he “wasn’t feeling great.”
Iafallo opened the scoring at 3:59 of the first period. His shot from inside the blue line deflected off Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon and past Gustavsson.
The Wild got on the board at 10:05 with a power-play goal as Hartman converted a Marcus Johansson pass from the side of the net.
Fleury was applauded for appearing in the 999th NHL game of his career.
“That was flattering. It was pretty nice of the Jets fans to give a cheer like that,” said Fleury, who is expected to play in his 1,000th game on Sunday.
”It’s pretty cool to get there, right? But it will be nice to be done with it.”
Fleury is one win away from tying Patrick Roy for second-most victories in NHL history (551).
With an assist on Minnesota’s second goal, Kaprizov has nine points in his last five games. … The Wild have won 11 of 15 games since John Hynes took over as head coach from Dean Evason … Lowry is one goal away from 100 for his NHL career … Winnipeg’s Gabe Vilardi has six goals and six assists in his last seven games.
The teams will square off again Sunday afternoon in Minnesota.