Just as Bennett netted the game-winning goal in his first game back from a broken wrist last Friday in Columbus, Martin buried the decider in his return from a fractured hand as the Pittsburgh Penguins downed the Jets 4-2 on Thursday night in Winnipeg.
Martin, one of the Penguins’ top defensemen and most important skaters, donned the black and gold for the first time since Feb. 7, a span of 18 NHL games. He was injured while competing for Team USA at the Sochi Olympics.
Martin isn’t necessarily known for his goal-scoring prowess, but he looked like a true sniper when he deposited a pass from James Neal to break a 2-2 tie 7:42 into the third period. Martin one-timed the puck past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec from the slot, finishing a play Sidney Crosby started by winning a puck battle along the side boards and dishing to Neal.
Following that key power-play conversion, the Penguins’ struggling shorthanded unit squelched a Jets advantage triggered by a Crosby penalty to maintain the one-goal edge. Brian Gibbons tacked on an unassisted insurance tally with 3:36 to go, locking up a win to start a three-game Western Conference road trip.
The Flyers’ loss to Columbus earlier in the evening clinched the Metropolitan Division for the Pens, just the second time the franchise has won back-to-back division titles. Pittsburgh won the Patrick and Northeast crowns in 1993 and ’94, respectively.
In addition, Dan Bylsma became the fastest coach in NHL history to 250 regular-season victories; he accomplished the feat in 395 games behind the Penguins bench.
Crosby deservedly earned the first star handed out by Winnipeg media, as he was a puck-possession machine all night. He assisted on goals from Bennett and Martin to boost his league-leading point total to 102.
It was a big night for Bennett, too, as the second-year winger skated on left wing with Crosby and Chris Kunitz. His goal at 12:44 of the first period was fired into an open net after Crosby found him all alone at the inner edge of the left circle as a power play expired.
The Jets (34-34-10, 78 points) struck back for two straight goals in the second, with Olli Jokinen and Zach Redmond cashing in on sloppy Penguins defending. Winnipeg nearly cruised into the second intermission with the lead, but Craig Adams rifled a pass from Lee Stempniak under Pavelec at 18:47 to knot it up.
Despite a few nervous moments in the middle of the game, Pittsburgh limited the home team to 15 shots. The Penguins themselves generated just 21, but they had to be encouraged by their finish after they faded in a loss to Carolina on Tuesday.
Marc-Andre Fleury made all the saves he had a chance on, helping the Penguins to a win for the third time in four starts.
Pittsburgh rolls south to the Twin Cities to face Minnesota on Saturday night.