Early in the first period of his NHL debut, Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped a wrist shot from Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.
Making that first save calmed Hellebuyck’s nerves, and he didn’t have much reason to stress after. He only faced 14 more shots.
Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and an assist, Hellebuyck made 14 saves and the Jets spoiled winger Zach Parise’s return from a knee injury by beating the Wild 3-1 on Friday.
“I think anyone playing their first game is hyped up on adrenaline, so I was focused,” Hellebuyck said. “The team was playing really good in front of me and that’s all you can ask for.”
Mathieu Perreault added his second goal in two games and Nikolaj Ehlers’ goal late in the third put the game away.
The Jets won on the road for the first time in their last seven tries and for just the third time in their last 11 games overall.
“A lot of things have been going wrong around here, and we needed some way to get back to our game plan,” Byfuglien said. “New blood in the pipes never hurts, and the kid played great.”
Ryan Carter scored for Minnesota, finally getting a shot past Hellebuyck that made it 2-1 midway through the third period.
Hellebuyck was college hockey’s top goalie in 2013-14 at UMass Lowell and the goaltender on the U.S. team that won a bronze medal in the 2015 world championships.
Minnesota finished with a season-low 15 shots, which was also a season low in shots allowed for the Jets.
“Tough to play when you feel like you’re chasing the puck all game,” said Parise, who added that his knee felt fine. “Tough to make plays, tough to make shots when you feel like you never have the puck.”
Wild fans at the Xcel Energy Center let out a roar when it was announced before the game that Parise would start, but his return failed to spark Minnesota.
After Jason Zucker was whistled for an elbowing penalty behind the net, Perreault took a pass from Byfuglien and zipped it past Devan Dubnyk to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead with 3:34 left in the second period.
Byfuglien made it 2-0 early in the third when his odd-angle shot hit Dubnyk in the back of the skate and went in for his seventh goal.
“It’s just one of those bounces. It got in somehow,” Byfuglien said.
Carter’s goal bounced off of Winnipeg defenceman Mark Stuart and past Hellebuyck to give Minnesota some momentum.
The rookie bounced back quickly and stopped a big shot from Jason Pominville with 3:11 to play.
“It felt great,” said Hellebuyck, who was told by coach Paul Maurice on Thursday afternoon that he’d be starting. “I think the team played really well in front of me and blocked a lot of shots, and it showed out there.”
Just 11 seconds later, Ehlers got loose on a breakaway and put the game away.
Winnipeg’s defence entered ranked 29th in goals allowed but had little problem preventing Minnesota from generating quality scoring chances.
The Wild have just one win in their last six games. Parise was Minnesota’s leading scorer when he sprained a knee ligament on Nov. 5.
“I look at the first part of the season and I think our record was a little misleading. I think there were a lot of inconsistencies in our game,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “What happens is I think we’re playing the same game that we were at the start of the year, but the league gets better. So right now we’re not getting away with those things.”
NOTES: Wild F Justin Fontaine missed his 11th game with a sprained MCL, but has a chance to return for a game Saturday against Dallas. … The Wild went 4-3-1 without Parise. … Jets RW Blake Wheeler had an assist and now has points in 18 of 24 games.