NEW YORK — They’re coming home because they have to, according to the National Hockey League schedule.
But after going 4-1 on a five-game trek away from Manitoba — capped by a 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers in front of 17,200 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night — it’s hard not to wonder if the Winnipeg Jets might want to keep this travelling road show rolling, rolling, rolling.
In any case, let’s make something perfectly clear in the wake of the Jets evening their record at 9-9-1 and moving into a tie with Tampa and Carolina for the Southeast Division lead and the final Eastern Conference playoff spot: there were no champagne corks popping in the dressing room afterward.
"It was a good road trip for us, but we’re a .500 hockey team right now," said Jets centre Olli Jokinen who, along with Evander Kane, scored twice to pace the attack. "We can’t lose our focus. We’re not 10 games over .500, we’re .500.
"But we’ve started believing that we have a good team. We’ve started believing that we can beat any team. Being up one goal, down one goal, there’s that confidence right now that we feel we can play with anyone. The biggest thing with a young team like us is we’ve got to stay focused and make every shift count. The focus has been there the last five games."
No scoring, but one of the biggest developments of the opening period was the work of Dustin Byfugien, who played a team-high seven minutes and 48 seconds. Coming off a couple of days when his availability was iffy, Byfuglien would finish the night with just under 25 minutes of work and was a +4. It was a workhorse effort from a guy who looked tired and immobile just a couple nights earlier in New Jersey.
A bit of a score-fest that would end with the Jets taking a 3-1 lead into the final frame. Olli Jokinen would score twice and Kane once as the Jets outshot the Rangers 17-12. Of note: Anthony Peluso picked up two helpers in the period, setting up Kane’s first and Jokinen’s second. Who knew his hands could be used for something other than denting an opponent’s mug?
"Outstanding," said Jokinen about Peluso. "He works hard every game and it’s great to see a guy like him get rewarded with a couple of points. He keeps his game simple, but he’s got very good hands. He can shoot the puck, he’s got the size. He’s got to play with confidence and he was playing with confidence tonight. He’s not afraid to play and that’s a great sign for a tough guy like he is."
A wild finish as the Rangers come at the Jets hard in an attempt to end a three — now four-game — losing streak. But Ondrej Pavelec was sharp despite surrendering two goals in the final frame and the Jets put a bow on a 4-1 trip.
"It started in New Jersey, the way we played in the third period," said Pavelec. "We just closed the game and did it again (last night). It’s not an easy building to play in and the Rangers are a tough team to play against."
After the buzzer
The Jets play their next two at home — Thursday against New Jersey and Saturday versus Washington and then head out again for four-game jaunt with stops in Florida, Tampa, Florida (again) and Jersey.
"We’re just happy we’re back to .500. Now we’ve got to go back home on Thursday and have a good game there in front of our own fans," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "For us, the confidence level is being spread through our whole team, not only scoring-wise but more so in helping our team win games. The level of joy we’ve got in our room right now is good. And the level of confidence is equally good."