I T’S temporary, sure. But it’s as real as the black and white of the National Hockey League standings: The Winnipeg Jets are once again atop the Southeast Division after rallying for a 3-1 victory over the mighty Boston Bruins Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.
The victory not only improves the Jets to 16-12-2 for 34 points, but moves them from seventh to third in the Eastern Conference after the Carolina Hurricanes fell 4-1 to the Florida Panthers.
"We’re just trying to push up the standings as far as we can go," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "I don’t think you can worry about what everybody else is doing, it’s more about what we’re doing in here."
The Jets come out of the hangar soaring and almost blow the roof off less than five minutes in when Blake Wheeler clangs one off the crossbar behind Tuukka Rask. But any offensive momentum the club had seemed to fizzle as the Bruins went on the power play twice in the second half of the opening period. That said, the Bruins weren’t just 0-for-2 with the man advantage, they didn’t muster a single shot.
The tone was set for a sloppy second early, when Zach Bogosian’s attempted pass to Ron Hainsey went off the end boards and off the side of the net right to a streaking Brad Marchand. The Bruins’ über-pest, playing in his 200th NHL game, potted the opportunity behind Ondrej Pavelec just eight seconds in — the quickets goal the Jets have allowed to start a period this season.
"We were going in the wrong direction after watching the second and playing that way," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "From that standpoint, I liked the will of the room and the leadership group in trying to get us to play in the right areas and not deal with the negative emotions and frustrations and things that were evident in the second."
The numbers looked bleak for the Jets heading into the third, having gone 0-7-0 in games in which they trailed after 40 minutes. Make that 1-7-0 now, after Wheeler and Evander Kane scored 57 seconds apart to take the lead, before Wheeler potted an empty-netter in the dying seconds to seal the deal. Just as important as the rally was Wheeler’s first goal came on the power play against the NHL’s top-rated penalty-kill unit.
"Like I’ve said so many times, this is what is different from last year: We know how to play those games," said Ondrej Pavelec. "We didn’t give up. We started the third period a little bit slowly and they played really well. We didn’t know what to do. But the power-play goal was huge and it was a great comeback in the third."
AFTER THE BUZZER
The Jets are now 11-4-1 since their slump at the start of the season. What made this significant wasn’t just the rally against a Stanley Cup contender — it was just the sixth loss for the Bruins this season — but how the Jets answered a so-so performance in Sunday’s loss to Ottawa with a solid effort.
"We’ll take it. It wasn’t pretty but they seldom are when you are playing really good teams," said Wheeler. "They had us frustrated. We weren’t getting pucks behind them, we weren’t getting our forecheck going.
"Then, that’s what happens: You score a goal, all of a sudden it’s a tie game and you got all the momentum. Hockey is a funny game: Sometimes you are just down and out... and you pop a goal and the next thing you know you’re just flying. "