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Jets strike in overtime to beat Lightning 2-1

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TAMPA, Fla. -- They’re certainly not going to remind anyone of those potent Edmonton Oiler squads of the 1980s, the dominant Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the late ’70s or the Big, Bad Bruins.

But the Winnipeg Jets appear to have rediscovered -- and yes, the evidence is still circumstantial even after Thursday’s 2-1 overtime victory over the Tampa Lighting -- their winning blueprint.

And it is built on this: all hands on deck with 20 guys pitching in, stellar goaltending and just a smidgen of offence.

Now comes the next critical hurdle -- doing it again immediately against the Florida Panthers Friday night in Sunrise.

"We have to have the same mentality," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who was outstanding against the Bolts. "Never quit, never say die is our motto right now. We’re going to play you hard for 60 minutes and if you beat us, then hats off to you, but it’s going to be tough."

So awful for most of January, the Jets have been a different squad, if not a tad more opportunistic, in the two games since the all-star break. The Jets followed up Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout victory in Philadelphia with another defensive gem as Ondrej Pavelec kicked out 30 shots, Dustin Byfuglien returned from injury to give the squad more-than-expected minutes and Kyle Wellwood played the hero at 3:14 of overtime, sending 16,923 at Tampa Bay Times Forum -- aside from a very vocal minority of Jets faithful -- home in a sour mood.

Asked if he could remember the last time he potted an OT winner, Wellwood grinned then said:

"I have no idea. I don’t even know if I have one. That’s a nice feeling, even though there was an empty net to put it in."

And then he hammered home what the Jets, now 24-22-6, are all about with 30 games remaining.

"The defence and Pavelec are the story of our team right now," Wellwood said. "We’ve got some things at forwards where everybody’s kind of in different spots that they’re not accustomed to, besides the top line. We’re trying to get the job done offensively and it’s a work in progress."

The Jets managed to shut down a Lightning squad that had reeled off five consecutive wins with their defensive effort, limiting the red-hot Steven Stamkos -- the NHL's top goal man with 33 -- to just two shots while blocking 16. And they needed it, given this: Winnipeg has just three regulation goals in the last four games.

"I’m not really too concerned with our scoring too much," said head coach Claude Noel. "We’re playing well, we’re playing hard. I like some of the things that we do and we're managing the game in the proper way, we’re managing the score and our effort's good. Can you keep it up? Right now it's about winning. We're winning some games and that's a good thing."

Just as important is the Jets have got it done on the road this week. It’s still not close to being respectable, but Winnipeg’s road record is now 9-14-4 and the mantra continues to be to tread water during this current stretch of nine road contests in 11 games before an eight-game stint at home from Feb. 17-March 5.

"Our backs are against the wall, kinda," Wheeler said. "We dug ourselves a bit of a hole in January and we came out of it and realized we were still in the race. It's a tight one; there's teams creeping up behind us and we're creeping up on teams, too. We're focussed on if we can get to that long stretch of home games -- I don't know when it is exactly but it's coming up -- if we can get somewhere near that top eight when we go into that stretch, then there’s no reason we can't be in it until the end."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

Game preview

TAMPA, Fla. – The Winnipeg Jets have been fixated on the teams in front of them – particularly those holding down the spots directly ahead of them in the NHL’s Eastern Conference – as they try to make up ground from their 10th-place standing.

They might want to take a peek behind them, too.

The Jets, 23-22-6, meet the Tampa Lightning tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (6:30 p.m.; TSN Jets/TSN Sports Radio) in a Southeast Division battle that is critical for two squads trying to inch into the playoff picture. The Jets trail first-place Florida by five points and Washington by four while the Lightning, winners of five straight, are just four points back of Winnipeg with two games in hand.

Winnipeg won a 2-1 shootout in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the same night the Lightning extended their winning streak to five games with an overtime victory over the Caps.

“We’ve struggled on the road so far this season, but we played well in Philly,” said Jets’ centre Bryan Little after Thursday morning’s game-day skate. “We want to score a bit more than we have been lately, but overall it was a really good road game for us. The main thing (against Tampa) is to not let them frustrate you. They’re a patient team and they take advantage of opportunities when teams turn the puck over. We can’t turn the puck over against these guys because they have a lot of skilled guys who can make us pay.”

The Jets will welcome back both Dustin Byfuglien and Alex Burmistrov to their lineup against the Bolts. Byfuglien has missed 16 games with a knee injury and was back on a defensive pairing with Toby Enstrom at the morning skate. Burmistrov, who missed two games with a concussion, was on a line with Aaron Gagnon and Antti Miettinen.

“It looks like we’re going to be pretty good to go here with Buff,” said head coach Claude Noel. “He’ll be a welcome addition for us. He’s a good player and it stabilizes guys a little bit. But, in all fairness, he hasn’t played for awhile and we’ve got to be a little patient. He’ll have enthusiasm. Most times it goes good for the first game and then drops off a little later. We’ll monitor his conditioning level and see where he’s at. We play again tomorrow so there’s a bigger picture than just tonight’s game.”

The Jets are in Sunrise Friday for another critical divisional matchup with the Panthers.

The Lightning, meanwhile, have improved to 22-23-4 with their five-game win streak that has included victories over Boston, Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus and Washington.

“It’s a dogfight, but at least we haven’t given the other team an open door to walk in,” said Tampa head coach Guy Boucher. “That’s what we’ve been doing and our starts have been really good in the last five games and we’ve been able to build on those first periods. But it’s always about the teams we play, not the climb up or the fall down. To me, we have a rock climber’s mentality: don’t look up, don’t look down and focus on the rocks in front of you.”

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 7:11 PM CST: Adds first period story

8:10 PM: Adds goal scored, second period over

8:19 PM: Corrects to state Lightning had one power play

8:21 PM: Changes line about power plays

8:38 PM: Updates with Lightning goal

8:56 PM: Adds end of regulation time

9:10 PM: Updates with game over

9:36 PM: Changes photo

10:45 PM: Final game story

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