Nearly the entire NHL, including headquarters, looked ahead to Monday night’s game at the MTS Centre raving about goalie Ryan Miller and his surging Buffalo Sabres.
Message from the prairie: Big deal.
The Winnipeg Jets were stunned momentarily with a goal against late in the second period but lit up the afterburners for the only two goals of the third to shoot down the Sabres 3-1 before 15,004 gleeful customers.
The punctation mark on their eight-game homestand brought this MTS Centre run to 5-1-2 and pushed the Jets to 32-27-8, good for 72 points and the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, now four ahead of the Sabres.
Winnipeg is just two points back of the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, who have two games in hand, and now suddenly, it seems, just four behind the seventh-place Ottawa Senators, with the same number of games played.
"We did a great job of taking advantage of this homestand," said the Jets offensive star on Wednesday, Bryan Little, who had three assists. "We did a great job of getting points we needed. We didn’t play easy teams. Tonight was an especially hard game and we found a way to get the two points. Hopefully we can take that on the road with us."
The Jets are off to Vancouver Thursday and Calgary on Friday.
While everybody had been talking about the Sabres, who hadn’t lost outright since Feb. 16, the Jets and Buffalo are exactly the same in their last nine games — 6-1-2.
"This is the exact same game we’ve been playing since the all-star game," said Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler, who had the game-winner by beating Miller on a breakaway at 8:02 of the third.
Little said the Jets didn’t care if everyone was watching the Sabres and not his team.
"We didn’t mind that," Little said after his first three-point game of the season. "I know there was a lot of talk about how good Miller was playing. He is playing great. He didn’t have a bad night tonight.
"We just took advantage of some of their mistakes, I mean, a breakaway, a great play by Thorbs (Chris Thorburn). He still made some great saves but we weren’t going to get distracted by how well he’s been playing."
Little seemed to make all the right plays on Monday, sparking the offence the Jets needed to complete their homestand with 32 goals scored in the eight games.
He created a fat rebound for linemate Andrew Ladd’s game-opening goal. For the second he sprang Wheeler for the breakaway and three minutes after that, sent Thorburn away down the right wing for a remarkable, high-skill insurance goal.
"I had a Wheels kind of game," Little smiled, referring to Wheeler’s team-leading 39 assists this season.
When Wheeler sent the MTS Centre fans into a frenzy in the third period, he said there was only one option on his chance.
"The scouting report has kind of been that Miller’s unbeatable, but if you’re going to beat him you’ve got to try to go over the shoulder," he said about ringing the shot just under the crossbar. "You always feel fortunate scoring on a goalie like him. He’s probably the best in the league right now. It felt good when it went in."
"Hopefully there’s bigger ones to come."
The Jets killed a pair of second-period penalties before Corey Tropp jammed in a goal with just 35 seconds left in the second, nullifying Ladd’s game-opener.
"There could have been a couple of turning points in the game," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "When they had back-to-back power plays, I was a little worried there. I thought the game had tremendous pace.
"I like the fact we didn’t get demoralized when we gave up a goal with (35) seconds left in the second period. That was good. We were very resilient coming back into the third period and just playing.
"That’s back-to-back third periods we’ve played well and frankly, I thought our guys played with a lot of will."
That will has been out in spades since Ladd asked his team’s best players to be exactly that about three weeks ago.
"I think everyone has stepped up," Little said. "We’re not getting scoring from one or two guys. It’s been kind of spread out. Everyone’s been stepping up their game."