BOSTON — If you’ve got the right stuff for 40 minutes and then lose the game, do you actually have the right stuff?
That’s the key question that comes out of Tuesday night’s NHL game at TD Garden, where the upstart Winnipeg Jets put three leads up on the scoreboard and led 3-2 through 40 minutes, only to see the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins rattle home three goals in the first 6:41 of the third to coast to a 5-3 victory.
The unravelling began just eight seconds into the third period, with Nathan Horton’s second goal of the game.
"It’s the worst-case scenario," said Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey.
Winnipeg limps home today with a 1-3 road trip to start 2012.
"I thought we were pretty happy with the way we played in the first two periods," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "We were pretty confident going into that period.
"That first shift just killed us. It took the air out of the team. We’ve got to be better off the start of that period."
It was by no means a perfect first 40 minutes for the Jets, but they were largely engaged in the contest, getting goals from Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Eric Fehr, as well as solid netminding from Ondrej Pavelec, to push the Bruins hard.
"We weren’t playing our best hockey in the first and second," Horton said, apparently unwilling to concede there were two teams on the ice.
But the Bruins played their game in the third, running over the Jets just like a Cup champion could, adding goals by Tyler Seguin and Benoit Pouliot after Horton’s.
And that had Jets coach Claude Noel’s blood close to boiling after it was over, his team having dropped to 20-17-5 to start the second half of the season.
"It’s a disappointing game," Noel said. "You played pretty solid for 40 minutes. You miss an assignment on the opening faceoff the first shift of the third and you’re fricking tied."
The watered-down profanity was an indication of the coach’s deep displeasure.
"Emotionally, they played and they won the battles and we didn’t pay the price necessary at our net," he said. "That’s where they scored three of their goals. For me, there’s no excuses. But you’re playing against a team that’s won a Cup and emotionally they get to a level that you’ll have to know you’re going to dig down and reach.
"We didn’t get it done."
And his young team has plenty to learn about getting it done, Noel said.
"That’s where you have to see where you’re going to grow," he said. "You’re playing against a team that has won. They’ve won for a reason. It’s more than good players. It’s the experience of the push and the emotional level. These are the games you have to utilize and be prepared for this stuff.
"What’s going to take place? They’re down by one. What do you think’s going to happen. Well, emotionally they’re going to push and physically they’re going to push. They’ve got weight they can do that with and they did."
Noel made no secret that his team got quickly demoralized with Horton’s goal early in the third.
And he said there’s no way to practice or refine the handling of such situations, other than to go through it and to learn not to repeat mistakes.
"You can’t practise an emotional level," Noel said. "You have to go through the experiences of this. There are no practices where you can sit there and say, ‘Let’s replicate this.’ These are some of the experiences you’ve got to get over this stage of your existence.
"You’ve got to find ways to get into this. Is that through confidence? It’s going to work through checking and through sacrifices and having success with sacrifices. That’s what you have to try go get over."
As costly as the blown leads were two more injuries for the Jets on Tuesday.
They lost Tanner Glass to a facial cut in the first period after he was high-sticked — no call – by Boston’s Joe Corvo. Glass could not return.
Then defenceman Zach Bogosian had to leave the game during the second period with a lower-body injury and he didn’t return.