It’s hard to say which about the fan, likely from Winnipeg, that threw the hat on the ice before Evander Kane’s shootout attempt Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Kane already had two goals in the game, and even a shootout marker wouldn’t count as an official hat trick.
But Kane liked the thought, actually, and he didn’t flinch, wiring a shot high into the net past Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom to send the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-3 shootout win with the final shot of the game.
"I was thinking that it was good that somebody was thinking that I was going to score," Kane beamed after the game, having scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season during regulation time.
"I knew what I wanted to do and I stuck to it. I’m a shooter and I was able to pick the corner."
"I’m not a superstitious guy," piped in Jets coach Claude Noel. "Certainly he wasn’t rattled with it. He almost ignored it."
Kane’s focus, and a strong night from backup goalie Chris Mason — especially late in the game and in the shootout — helped the Jets stop a slide of two losses and lifted them up to 60 points, now just four points off the Eastern Conference playoff line heading home for tonight’s date with the Boston Bruins (7 p.m. CT, TSN, TSN 1290).
The game kicks off an eight-game stay at the MTS Centre.
"That extra point was huge, I think," Kane said. "If we win this game, we go back home and it gives us a lot of energy going forward."
Mason, in his first shootout of the season, stopped three of four including the fourth try from sniper Dany Heatley that set the stage for Kane.
"I’ve been meaning to practise breakaways in practice," Kane said. "They’re big because you can gain a lot fo points and lose a lot of points in the shootout. I was glad the guys put the puck in the net tonight."
Kane and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg in the shotoout.
"This is really big," Mason said. "We’re all aware we haven’t been as good as we wanted to be on the road so any time we can pick one up and start building confidence is huge. It’s good heading home for a tough one tomorrow night."
The Jets, now 27-26-6, played before thousands of Jets fans who made the trip here.
"Not only were they there, they were noisy and you knew they were there," Wheeler said. "It’s always fun to go on the road and know your team travels well and see them make the game not so fun for the home crowd, maybe stir things up a little bit."
Minnesota, sliding with four straight losses in this home stand, is 25-23-9, 12th in the Western Conference standings
The game went back and forth several times Thursday and the home team got the jump just 1:03 into the third.
This time it was Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu swatting his own rebound back into the cage after Mason had made a sparkling save on Koivu.
But instead of wilting like they did on Tuesday at home, the Jets pushed back and needed only two minutes to square the game again.
Alex Burmistrov took Dustin Byfuglien’s shot off the backboard and roofed it behind Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom at 3:03.
Kane and Minnesota’s Devin Setoguchi traded pairs of goals in the first two periods, one each in each.
Kane had scored just once previously in 2012 and now has 21 goals on the season.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Three Minnesotans are back in their home state tonight, playing for the Winnipeg Jets against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m. CT, TSN Jets, TSN 1290).
Defencemen Mark Stuart and Dustin Byfuglien and forward Blake Wheeler all have dozens of friends and family headed for the Xcel Energy Center tonight.
And they’ll be joined by thousands of Jets fans, who have made the trip from Winnipeg and area.
Before the season started, Wild owner Craig Leipold told the Free Press that tonight’s game had already shown a spike in sold tickets and that the only logical explanation was that Jets fans were buying them up.
If that’s the case, they it’s likely some similar ruckus to that of the 2011 draft last June will take place again in the arena. That’s when Winnipeg fans begged, borrowed and dealt their way into a sold-out Xcel Energy Center on a Friday night and cheered madly for the announcement of the franchise’s nickname and its first first-round draft pick Mark Scheifele.
“It’s an easy game to get up for, no matter what,” said Stuart, who’s from Rochester. “We haven’t played as well as we’d have liked lately. These are points we really need. It’s nice coming back home and having some family and friends in the crowd. It makes it really exciting.”
Because he’s spent his career in the Eastern Conference, Stuart believes this is only his fourth game in this arena.
Byfuglien, who lives in the Twin Cities in the off-season, is in the midst of legal trouble locally. He was arrested late last summer and accused of being intoxicated while boating on Lake Minnetonka. His lawyer, Mitch Robinson, has been conferring with authorities about a deal, with the next meeting schedule for April 19, not this week while Byfuglien is here. The matter may well go to trial in June.
Byfuglien was focused on hockey today and said he looks forward to a growing rivalary.
“They’re a close team,” Byfuglien said. “It’s a northern rivalry that will definitely get going.”
Byfuglien played 28:13 against the Islanders on Tuesday, his second highest total of the season.
“Anytime you can get that amount of ice time, it’s actually a big thing,” Byfuglien said. “ It keeps you in the game when you get to play a lot.”
Wheeler was gushing this morning about all his fond memories in Xcel.
“There are almost too many, to be honest,” said Wheeler, who’s from nearby Robbinsdale. “I think winning the state high school hockey tournament, that’s always going to be one of my fondest memories. Your first dream in life is to play in that tournament so to win it was kind of the springboard for my career.
“And the Final Five goal against North Dakota, that’s always going to bring back memories when I come in this building as well.”
Tonight, there should be no shortage of intensity between a pair of teams with 58 points.
The Jets are 10th in the Eastern Conference and have lost four of their last six. They are six points behind the last playoff spot.
The Wild has gone from first overall to 12th in the Western Conference, and is five points off the playoff line.
“They really started fast and furious and have tailed off a little deeper than us,” Jets coach Claude Noel said. “We didn’t start off with that same start but we’ve consistently gone in the wrong direction.
“What it does is show that both teams are going to have some urgency to this game.”
Minnesota is 5-16-5 since losing 2-1 to the Jets on Dec. 13.
A reporter put that to Noel.
“And you want me to cry?” Noel said, clearly trying to be funny and succeeding as he sent the scrum of reporters into laughter.
“It’ funny, because some teams when you’re hot, and they were when they came in, (use some) teams to springboard to get themselves going. For us it worked in reverse... we’ve springboarded off that game and we had a pretty good month. We used that to build confidence.
“It just happened that it worked in reverse for them. I don’t think there’s anything attached to that, other than the significance of the game tonight.”
Minnesota is the second-lowest scoring team in the West and is 0-3 in its current homestand.
“I know that they’re going through a lot of the same things we’re going through,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo. “You read some of the articles and a lot of the quotes are very similar as well.
“We know we’re going to face a desperate team, a team with a lot of urgency, not to mention the last time we played each other, that was quite a game. It was physical, it was fast, I think we can expect more of the same tonight.”
The Jets will be without defenceman Zach Bogosian tonight. He didn’t make the trip and is out day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
The Wild will be without defenceman Marek Zidlicky, who has asked to be traded and will be a healthy scratch.