Put aside all the trade-deadline complaints, the streaks and the multi-faceted fight that is shaping up for the final playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.
What came into focus Thursday night at the MTS Centre was just how high the bar is set if you really, truly want to be part of the picture for the real prizes on the horizon.
The Winnipeg Jets were willing and eager to start, but before the night was over, the Los Angeles Kings showed them how to be strong on the puck, how to be quick about everything you do and by glueing the two together with patience, how high the percentage for victory will be.
A 3-1 Kings’ win only confirmed the champs are back on their game. After losing nine of 11 before February’s schedule break, the Kings have now won five in a row coming out of it (six overall) as they solidify their participation in the post-season tournament.
"We’ve been playing that way the last 15 games but tonight they were faster, they were quicker and they handled the puck in our zone and we couldn’t handle that," said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who had to be very sharp against 41 L.A. shots.
"You have to respect we played against a really good team. We just didn’t play the game we wanted they didn’t give us much. They know how to play those games. They don’t have to score eight goals. Pretty sure they’ve got players in their lineup that can do it but we scored the first goal and they didn’t panic, stuck with the plan and after they had the lead, it’s tough to play against them."
While the once-sagging Kings bounced to 78 points, the Jets are stalled at 67 with their 30-27-7 mark, now 11-4-2 under new coach Paul Maurice.
With Dallas’s win over Vancouver Thursday, Winnipeg has slipped three points back of the Stars for that final spot.
Winnipeg’s offence in the last eight games has been 2-2-2-3-3-3-2-1, clearly not leaving much room for error.
And now that talented rookie centre is out of the picture, what will happen?
"We’re going to figure out a way to win games," Maurice said. "There will be nothing about today’s game that will say we should but it’s a dangerous thing to evaluate your offensive game against that team every night, the way they’re going now."
The home team started well on Thursday, forcing Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to deal out three or four delicious rebounds.
Instead of latching onto that and making it a night-long trend, the Jets hit a roadblock not long after the first period.
"I liked the speed of the game we started with," Maurice said. "We moved the puck sharp and we moved our feet and then I thought we ran into the L.A. Kings when they’re at their best and they will take your game and frustrate you to the point that you start to change what you’re trying to do because there’s nothing given easily and they’re dangerous.
"I was left with the thought that there are two kinds of confidence in hockey. There’s the individual confidence that comes and goes at times but where we’re trying to get to is a confidence in the style of play, a way of playing in being able to handle those games."
After Evander Kane fed Olli Jokinen perfectly for the game’s first goal, the Kings needed only 42 seconds to tie it midway through the second period, setting the stage for the game-changing moment.
Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom went into the middle with a pass in the neutral zone and Kings forward Mike Richards gobbled it up in full stride, skated over the blue-line and blasted a shot high and past Pavelec for the eventual winner.
"You’re always trying to take something positive out of it but it’s obviously a disappointing to score the first goal and give up three," Kane said later.