SHOULD the Winnipeg Jets find themselves in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, Tuesday’s game could be one they see as a defining moment.
The Jets easily could have lost this game. They had moments where they looked terrible. Lost and tired and disinterested, which is typical for opponents of the Boston Bruins.
But in a theme that is gaining momentum as each week on the schedule passes, the Jets found a way to win. Brilliant goaltending, timely scoring and super-efficient penalty killing distilled into a winning formula.
A 3-1 victory over a Bruins club that would be justified in feeling a touch ripped off at the result.
"It’s huge," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, one of the few Jets who could claim being on the mark throughout the entire game. "The Bruins are tough to play against and have a recipe for success, especially on the road. They make it extremely tough and boring to play against them. There’s a reason why they’re at the top of the league every year. They had us frustrated after two periods and we sat in this room and regrouped and said it’s a one-goal game and to keep our heads in it and we can score a goal."
For the Jets, the win and the two points launched them right back up to third spot in the Eastern Conference and first in the Southeast Division.
Gamblers would have told you prior to the night’s action the Jets were likely to lose to the Bruins and the Carolina Hurricanes would prove winners over the Florida Panthers. You would have squandered your money.
Late in the second period, with the Jets trailing 1-0, Carolina’s results became final, a 4-1 loss to the lowly Panthers. Opportunity came knocking, but the snoozy Jets seemed unable to hear.
Then in less than a minute, the Bruins sagged and the Jets pounced with a pair of third-period goals from Wheeler and Evander Kane. With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, the Jets had two points in their lap and they rocked those babies home. Wheeler added another into the empty net.
By the time an MTS Centre crowd, which had been lulled into quiet by the Bruins for long portions of this tilt, ended its roaring salute, the Jets had moved up in the standings from seventh to third. Adding insult to injury, the fourthplace Bruins find themselves looking up to the Jets in the standings despite having 41 points to Winnipeg’s 34.
"It says volumes about our team," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "There are no easy games. Just because we beat the Bruins, doesn’t mean we’ll have easy games with the Washington Capitals. They’re all hard and there’s such a fine line between winning and losing in the NHL."
Noel is right, and games like Tuesday’s seemed to go the wrong way for the Jets often last season.
"That’s the maturity and confidence we’ve been able to build on," said captain Andrew Ladd. "We think in here that when we’re all clicking and doing the right things, we’re a tough team to beat. That’s the Boston Bruins. They’re not easy to play against. There’s a reason they’ve won championships. Beating them takes a full effort. We got it tonight and we’re getting it more and more often."
Added captain Andrew Ladd on the risk of a swoon now: "We’ve done the legwork of putting ourselves in the position of getting into the playoffs. Having not been there the last couple of years, the disappointment of that, but coming as far as we have now, we don’t want this opportunity to slip away."