PHILADELPHIA, Pa — This isn’t an easy town for anybody in enemy colours, be they Giants or Cardinals, Celtics or Penguins, Apollo Creed or Santa Claus.
And so when a visitor can escape with a victory — as the Winnipeg Jets did Tuesday night courtesy a 2-1 shootout over the Philadelphia Flyers — then it’s cause for a little celebration, short-lived as it may be.
"It wasn’t easy for us after the (all-star) break and especially here in Philly," began Jet goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "We battled hard. We had a couple scoring chances but, again, we couldn’t score. Finally we found a way to win.
"That’s a huge two points for us."
True that. On a night in which two of the teams Winnipeg had in its crosshairs — Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals — both picked up points in shootout/overtime losses, the Jets were able to pick up two with their third victory over the Flyers this season.
The Jets, now 23-22-6, have 52 points — three back of the idle Florida Panthers and now four behind the Leafs and Caps.
Most importantly, the result came with the squad depleted and missing four regulars in Dustin Byfuglien, Alex Burmistrov, Evander Kane and Tim Stapleton and in the midst of a horrible January nosedive that had dropped them down the Eastern Conference standings.
Given all that, excuse them if the music didn’t sound a little funkier and the beer taste a little sweeter after this one.
"It’s a great two points. We checked, we played hard, we did the necessary things and we’re glad we found a way to win the game," said head coach Claude Noel.
"I thought we played just a good team-system game. We were smart with the puck, we waited, we were patient and we played the game with the attitude that this might not be a high-scoring game and that was really the key.
"It was clear to me, judging from behind the bench, that we really wanted to win the game. You could see the enthusiasm on the bench and we were really involved in the game."
Some trends were working against the Jets early in the game when Brayden Schenn opened the scoring for the Flyers.
-The Jets were just 6-15-4 when the opponent scored first; that total now stands at 7-15-4;
-The Jets were 1-12-1 when trailing after the first; change that to 2-12-1.
-The Jets were 1-3 in the shootout this year; that should now read 2-3.
-And, the most alarming stat of all, the Jets were an atrocious 7-14-4 on the road this year; now 8-14-4.
And so when Andrew Ladd hit the side of the net on a super feed from Blake Wheeler with 57 seconds left and Bryan Little clanged one off the post in overtime, there were more than a few Jets’ eyes staring at the sky asking, ‘Why us?’
Then came the shootout dramatics in which Pavelec stopped Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr before Bryan Little — following misses by Kyle Wellwood and Blake Wheeler — beat Flyer goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov for the winner.
"I saw when Wellwood went down (Bryzgalov) kind of left his five hole open and so I decided to give him a little fake and it might open up again. And it worked," said Little with a grin. "It’s big. It’s good for our confidence to start it off this way. Consistency is going to be the biggest thing for us for the rest of the season and this is a good way to start off."
"It wasn’t easy for me." added Pavelec when asked about post all-star game rust. "I didn’t feel well tonight, but the guys did a good job. It was the same for everybody. It’s no excuse at all. I need a good sleep tonight. Hopefully, tomorrow’s practice is going to be better and then it will be better in Tampa."