Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets put pedal to the metal

Dang near drive it through the floorboards

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It wasn't the most complicated game plan, nor particularly unique or inventive.

"Pedal to the metal", the Winnipeg Jets proclaimed in the days following their thrilling 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins and with the Carolina Hurricanes -- last in the Eastern Conference and with new coach Kirk Muller desperately trying to wrap a tourniquet on the gushing wound that is their season -- up as their next opponent.

So say this after the Jets dominated the Canes 4-2 Friday night in front of another frenzied audience in downtown Winnipeg:

These guys not only kept their right foot on the gas pedal, they dang near hammered the thing right through the floor boards.

As a result the Jets not only improved to 13-11-4, they have now won four straight for the first time since November of 2010 and seven of their last eight at the MTS Centre. And while they're not at the front of the pack with the NHL front-runners, they do have their double blue-painted jalopy weaving through the pack in full chase mode.

"This is a very important win," said centre Tim Stapleton. "We spoke before the game that regardless of anyone's record or whether they're making trades (Carolina had shipped Tomas Kaberle to Montreal for Jaroslav Spacek Friday morning), we know it's the NHL and every team is good. You can't not respect any one in this league.

"We were ready."

Yes, any concerns head coach Claude Noel may have had before the contest about the Jets getting all fat and sassy with their recent success evaporated inside the first minute. The Jets pounced on a depleted Canes club early -- they were a man down as leading scorer Jeff Skinner was a late scratch with flu-like symptoms -- when Dustin Byfuglien banked a shot in off Carolina netminder Cam Ward for his sixth of the season 34 seconds after the opening faceoff. Less than five minutes later Evander Kane scored his 15th as the Jets rag-dolled the visitors in the first.

And they kept the engine revving in the second when Tim Stapleton and Bryan Little scored 72 seconds apart for a 4-0 advantage that chased Ward from the Carolina goal in favour of Mike Murphy.

The Canes would score twice in the third on goals by Justin Faulk and Brandon Sutter, but with Chris Mason steady in the Jets net -- he was making his first start since a Nov. 25 win in Raleigh -- Winnipeg was able to withstand most of the limited push-back by Carolina.

"That's a huge win, especially after the big win against Boston," said Mason. "Sometimes you come into these games thinking a little too high of yourself and I thought the guys did an excellent job of staying even keel, their work ethic was there and we stuck to our game plan.

"It feels great, personally. When you don't play, when you don't get the ice time on a constant basis you always have to deal with those jitters and pre-game butterflies. But once you get in the game they usually disappear. I felt good."

Mason made 23 saves, is now 3-2 on the season -- all three wins against Carolina -- with a goals-against average of 2.21 and a .909 save percentage.

"I thought the turning point in the game was from Mason," said Noel. "He made the breakaway save at 2-0 (on Anthony Stewart) and then he stopped another one on a partial breakaway in the second. Those were the big saves that really helped us and I thought he played a really strong game. You could see why I like him. His will to compete is good and it's infectious.

"They played with confidence, they showed they trusted each other and it was really well done. I feel better about they way we are now. It looks like we're getting a good hold on what we need to do. We're still going to hit our bumps somewhere here, I just think mentally we're in a good place and we understand where we need to go to."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2011 C1

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