It was a snapshot, a brief flash, of ‘what if’ and an exquisite taste of possibility for the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets absolutely throttled the Florida Panthers 7-0 Thursday night in a one-sided thumping that had the MTS Centre — already widely considered one of the loudest buildings in the National Hockey League — absolutely rattling from the rafters to its very foundation.
And so, on a night in which one standing ovation seemed to bleed into another, the goal horn got a heavy workout and with the mocking cheers raining down on the enemy goalie — make that goalies — it had to leave everyone in the joint wondering this:
Just imagine what this place would be like for a playoff hockey game.
First things first, however.
The win pushed the Jets’ record to 31-27-8 and vaulted them back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture with 70 points, one ahead of the idle Washington Capitals and now five ahead of 10th place Toronto. Just as important, the result moved the Jets to within two points of the Southeast Division-leading Panthers, now 30-21-12, although the Panthers do have three games in hand.
That, however, didn’t stop Jets fans from busting out into a "We want first place! We want first place!" chant in the third period that saw Winnipeg score five times in an offensive outburst that was astonishing.
"You could tell there was an extra little buzz around the city with everything on the line," said Blake Wheeler, who was outstanding again with a goal and an assist. "I think they want first place — they made that clear tonight, too — and that was great. Our team definitely had that feeling in our locker-room and to go out there on the ice and get the same feeling from the fans was a huge lift for us and it helped us, especially early on."
The Jets led 2-0 after 40 minutes but, in a direct contrast to Monday’s loss to Edmonton in which they carried a 2-1 lead into the third but then crashed and burned, hit new heights offensively with a five-goal outburst, including two goals 12 seconds apart as the Panthers came completely unravelled.
Evander Kane led the Jets with four points on two goals and two assists with the other goals coming from Kyle Wellwood, Bryan Little, Jim Slater and Nik Antropov while Ondrej Pavelec kicked out 33 shots for his fourth shutout of the season.
The Jets are now 4-1-2 on their homestand with the finale coming Monday against the Buffalo Sabres.
"We bounced back from that Edmonton game, especially in the third period," said Pavelec. "We didn’t make the same mistakes like we did in the last game. It was fun to see the guys score the goals. I know I say this all the time, but it was one night, one game and at this time it’s important to stay in the middle and not get too high or too low."
Asked if the game — the crowd, the buzz, the intensity and what was at stake — gave him a glimpse of what it could be like with games in mid-April, Pavelec grinned.
"That crowd, they have been loud all year long and especially if we are winning and if we are playing like that," he said. "It was fun to be part of, especially if we play well as a team.
"But, honestly, I didn’t see anything different from that crowd tonight. They are unbelievable every night. They are loud, you can feel it. I’m pretty sure if we make it..."
And it was here where Pavelec caught himself and pulled back to the Jets party line — the next game is their biggest game. Focus on what’s immediately in front, not a month away.
"Look, it would be fun to play in playoffs, especially in this building," he said. "But it’s got to be about Monday and Buffalo for us. It’s got to be."
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