WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Vitek Vanecek made 40 saves and the Washington Capitals beat Winnipeg 5-2 Friday night to spoil the debut of new Jets coach Dave Lowry.
“Vitek was really good,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought the first period, we did the right things, we came out with the right mindset. They (Jets) pushed hard in the second period and that’s when I think Vitek was at his best.
“Then I thought we reset going out for the third period. We played really smart, much more on the attack in the third period and really doing a better job.”
Michael Sgarbossa and Alex Ovechkin scored empty-net goals in the final 2:40 to seal the win for Washington. Brett Leason, Daniel Sprong and Conor Sheary also scored for the Capitals.
Sheary, who scored the winner midway through the third, credited Vanecek for sparking the squad.
“He kept us in it in the second and, in the third, made the saves he needed to,” Sheary said. “And we were able to bury the game-winner. It gives us a big boost on the bench when he’s making saves and doing that stuff and keeping us in the game. So, kudos to him.”
Brenden Dillon and Josh Morrisey scored for Winnipeg. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 34 of the 37 shots.
Lowry, Winnipeg’s former assistant coach, was named interim head coach after Paul Maurice announced his resignation earlier Friday.
“I thought we did play a fast game,” Lowry said. “I thought, you know, when you put up 40 shots, you’re doing something right. I thought it might have taken us a little while to get it going, but the second period I thought we did a good job of playing fast, managing the puck, creating opportunities.”
Dillon said the team was slow to get going in the game.
“It was obviously a pretty emotional day,” Dillon said of the coaching change. “For us, trying to get going for tonight, that first period, we were maybe a little bit just kind of in the moment of everything going on, but as the game went on, we got better.”
But Vanecek stoned them.
“It is frustrating,” Lowry said. “But I think the big thing is, you look at it, that there are bounces, but you try to learn from those. You know, you put pucks at the net, you put bodies at the net and usually good things happen.”
The Caps took a 3-2 lead midway through the third when Sheary pounced on a rebound in the crease with Hellebuyck down. Defensemen Justin Schultz and Dennis Cholowski assisted.
The Jets tied the score on the power play early in the third. Morrissey fired a shot past Vanecek on a pass from forward Nikolaj Ehlers. Defenseman Nate Schmidt also assisted.
The Jets had pulled to within 2-1 late in the second period. Dillion fired a screened shot from the point that beat Vanecek. It was the former Capitals player’s first goal as a Jet. Ehlers assisted.
The Caps took a 2-0 lead at 8:43 of the second. Just after Vanecek robbed Jets center Mark Scheifele from close range, Sprong whipped a shot past Hellebuyck on a setup from Aliaksei Protas.
Washington opened the scoring 3:11 into the second period. Leason, who was left alone in front of Hellebuyck, scored on a pass from Sgarbossa. Matt Irwin also assisted.
There was no scoring in the first period, but Hellebuyck made some brilliant saves as Washington outshot the Jets 14-8.
Lowry admitted that he was taken aback by Maurice’s sudden announcement.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said before the game. “For myself, it came out of the blue. I first had a conversation (Thursday) night with (Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff), that was the first that I had any inkling that something was going on. And yes, it was a surprise.
“The one thing that eases the situation a little bit is that I have Paul’s blessing in this.”
NOTES: The Jets announced that, to comply with the latest Manitoba Health public-health order announced Friday, their games at Canada Life Centre will be limited to 50% capacity between Dec. 21-Jan. 11. Friday night’s game was played at full capacity. Sunday's game against St. Louis will proceed with full capacity. The Jets plan to contact current seat holders by Dec. 21 to explain how they plan to reduce capacity. … The Jets have home games scheduled on Dec. 27 and Dec. 29, as well as Jan. 8 and Jan. 10.
Washington: Host the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
Winnipeg: Host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.
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