It’s not a clear and concrete sign — certainly not the equivalent of a white puff of smoke from the conclave in Vatican City — but the Winnipeg Jets did offer up some evidence they have rediscovered their home-ice mojo.
The Jets thoroughly dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 in front of another full house at the MTS Centre Tuesday night, improving their home record to 5-6 this season but — much more importantly — pushing them into an eighth-place tie in the Eastern Conference with the New York Rangers. Now 8-3-1 in their last 12 games, the Jets are 13-11-2 overall and, just to make things juicier, face the Rangers Thursday right here in River City.
Just about every Jet played a role in the club’s most dominant victory of the season but two ex-Leafs stood out as Nik Antropov (one goal, two assists) and Kyle Wellwood (goal, assist) combined for five points.
"It’s always good to get points against your old team but most important was the win for us," said Antropov. "We’ve been struggling at home a little bit so hopefully this is a turning point for us. Everybody understood this was a big game for both teams. We wanted more of this. This makes the next one against the Rangers even bigger because we’ve tied them up now."
Words that have seldom been spoken/written of late: ‘Jets score on the power play.’ Antropov has a Dustin Byfuglien shot deflect off him to open the scoring — the Jets’ first power-play goal in eight games, ending a stretch that saw them go 1-for-36 over the last 16 contests. The period also featured two scraps, as Chris Thorburn and Colton Orr squared off, followed by the captains Dion Phaneuf and Andrew Ladd.
That physical trend would continue as the two teams combined for a whopping 56 hits — 32 by the Leafs and 24 by the Jets.
"It creates some emotion for your team," said Jets forward Evander Kane. "It’s good to see guys step up and not backing down and defending themselves. That really sparks your team when everybody is playing physical... when the whole team’s doing it, it’s great to see."
The Leafs tie the contest at 1-1 on a knuckler by Phil Kessel, but the Jets reply 25 seconds later on Blake Wheeler’s first of two. But the critical moments came not long after that when Winnipeg killed a two-man advantage that lasted 1:54 with Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey, Jim Slater and James Wright all playing the heroes during the kill.
The Jets then built their lead to 3-1 heading into the third on a dominant offensive shift by Dustin Byfuglien, who fed Wellwood for one of his three assists.
"I think the play that turned the game around was the five-on-three kill," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "Then shortly after that we scored a goal to make it 3-1 and that elevated the emotion in the building and there was already a fair bit of emotion in the building as it was.
"I thought that was one of our better, if not our best, home games of this season. We wanted to make steps tonight, take steps in the right direction. I think that our players made the decision that we needed to take a step forward."
Pedal-to-the-metal time for the Jets, who get goals by Kane and Wheeler 97 seconds apart to go ahead 5-1 before a late marker by Kessel.
"That’s exactly the way we have to play," said Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who was solid. "Everybody is talking about it right now, that we are not that strong at home. But we’ve been good on the road. Now we have to start winning at home. We have to give the fans a reason to cheer for something."
After the buzzer
The Jets still have 13 home games remaining this season, including a six-game stand in April that could very well determine their playoff fate. More of these kind of games could result in meaningful games in the Stanley Cup derby. And if you thought Tuesday night was a blast...
"It was fun," said Ladd. "I thought we had that intensity in our game tonight that we need to have going forward. It’s easier in this building when they have much energy going and we can feed off that."