TORONTO — All the buzz about the already short-staffed Winnipeg Jets heading into Saturday’s game at Air Canada Centre was about head coach Paul Maurice making Evander Kane a healthy scratch.
It turned out it didn’t matter a lick.
The Jets gave a strong, consistent performance and defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs — some would say easily — 4-2, at the same time damaging the Leafs’ playoff hopes in a big way.
Winnipeg was erased from the playoff conversation last Thursday. Toronto, now with only three road games left, still has hope but trails the Columbus Blue Jackets by a point, and the Jackets have two games in hand.
"That was the coach’s decision," Maurice said about Kane after the game. "You’ll get no rationale from me."
Maurice declined to clarify any further when asked again about the root of Kane’s absence from the lineup.
"That would be me expounding," the coach shot back.
He was then asked what Kane — who has scored just three goals since Maurice took over Jan. 12 —would have to do to get back into the lineup.
"Probably just come to the rink," the coach said.
That response left a lot of room to read between the lines.
Did he mean that Kane would just be back in for the next game, Monday at home vs. Minnesota? Or did he imply that Kane had failed to show up for some team function or meeting or appointment and should start doing so?
We don’t know, so stay tuned.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd was dead certain Saturday’s result was about how the Jets played, not how the Leafs were nervous and flat.
"Us," Ladd said after a two-assist, plus-two game.
No argument from Maurice.
"They believed what they were talking about," the coach said. "It wasn’t a speech from the coach that got them back up. They sat down and decided what was important to them in the final four games.
"I’m really proud of them and I’m hopeful. Those are the things I’ve liked most about this team since I’ve been here. They’ve got a lot of compete and they really do care and I think that’s the best sign we have."
Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom fired the eventual game-winner on the power play at 17:02 of the second. The advantage was gained with a monster couple of shifts in the Leafs’ zone that led to Paul Ranger pulling down Adam Pardy.
"It’s kind of contagious when you’re forechecking like that," Ladd said. "The bench gets energized and you just want to keep it going. That second period was big in terms of maybe draining any momentum they had."
Maurice said the second was the payoff.
"For me, we didn’t come off our first period," Maurice said. "We just stayed on the puck. The big shift on the penalty and the power-play goal was the payoff for some of the stuff we’d been doing."
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was miffed about his team’s poor execution and seeming paralysis in situations in such a big game on Saturday, especially in that the Leafs were fairly strong in beating Calgary and Boston earlier in the week.
"It seemed to grasp us; probably the second period was probably where the indication (was)," Carlyle said. "But I think it started with the end of the first where we give up a goal (Jacob Trouba’s) with (three) seconds left. We had a fortunate bounce on a power play to give us a 2-1 lead — I think the Kadri goal you’d have to say it was a fortunate bounce that went our way. We just seemed like we were a flat hockey club from that point. We chased the game. And we didn’t seem to have any energy as a group. That’s the way I saw it."