With all due respect to the spirit of Christmas — the giving, the receiving and all that good cheer — the Winnipeg Jets entered their last home game before the holiday with one main thought in mind:
‘Tis the season to be ornery.
A spirited Jets squad, perhaps fearful of watching their playoff dream all but fade before the turn of the calendar, served up a dandy in a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers tonight in front of a festive full house at the MTS Centre.
The result brought the Jets back to .500 at 16-16-5, but also ended a six-game (0-3-3) home dry spell that had stretched back to a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers Nov. 15.
"Our group was kinda chomping at the bit to get going," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. "Any time you have a tough game like we did in Buffalo (a 4-2 loss on Tuesday) and you take a couple days to stew over it... sometimes you’re almost foaming at the mouth to get back out there. Our group was ready and excited to play tonight and have the opportunity to get the bad taste out of our mouth."
"It’s unacceptable, this losing at home," added goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "It’s great for the fans that we won tonight. But we go the road now with two more games before Christmas (Sunday in Vancouver, Monday in Edmonton) and we need every game."
NO SWEEP FOR YOU
The Panthers rolled into Winnipeg — albeit with a 3 a.m. arrival — following Thursday night’s win over Ottawa, their fifth straight that also included victories over Montreal and Toronto. The win in our capital had the organization beaming — it was their longest win streak since March of 2012 — prompting this friendly jab courtesy the team’s Twitter account:
‘#FlaPanthers fans doing some cleaning this AM may want to leave the brooms out to cheer on the Cats tonight as they try to sweep Canada 4-0!’
But while the Panthers opened the scoring — an against-the-flow marker by Shawn Matthias after a turnover by Dustin Byfuglien — the Jets held period leads of 3-1 and 5-2 and the turnaround was sparked by the power play, which scored twice 33 seconds apart to give the home side a two-goal cushion.
"That’s how it’s supposed to be," said Toby Enstrom. "We got a couple power plays at the beginning and scored some goals. It put us ahead in the game and it’s important for us."
Winnipeg’s work with the man advantage has been dramatic in the six games with seven power-play markers to pull them out of 30th overall in the NHL.
A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE RETURNED
One of the positive sidebars to tonight's win was the solid work by goaltender Ondrej Pavelec — and it’s a one-game trend the Jets need to turn into many, many more. Winless in his five previous starts (0-4-1) with an icky .850 save percentage, he got a huge public pat on the back from Claude Noel before the game, who made it clear Pavelec was their No. 1 puck-stopper, even with the solid work of Al Montoya, especially in the last few weeks.
"I wanted to win tonight just like everybody else," said Pavelec, who stopped 21 of the 23 shots he faced and got a couple of breaks with shots clanging off goalposts. "I don’t know how many points they hit the posts this year... it’s been good. Today, two posts or three... the bounces were on my side. We needed a little bit of luck to win the game."
The Jets activated workhorse defenceman Zach Bogosian from the injured list and, paired with Enstrom, he gave the Jets some solid work with 17:44 in ice time, three hits, a blocked shot and an assist on Wheeler’s 12th of the season.
"I felt good," said Bogosian. "It was a bit of a weird game with a lot of whistles, a lot of sitting around, a lot of penalties. But it felt good to be back and I didn’t have any setbacks, so it was good."
"Zach had a pretty good game, fairly solid," said Claude Noel. "Some areas he was a little bit rusty but that’s OK. I thought he matched up well with Toby."
YOUNG GUNS FIRING
The Jets’ rising stars — rookies Mark Scheifle (two assists), Jacob Trouba (goal, assist) and Evander Kane (goal, assist) — were among the club’s best. Scheifele now has points in five straight games (3 goals, 4 assists) and has moved into the NHL leaders for rookie scoring.
"Mark has grown like we anticipated," said Noel. "People were criticizing that he’s not ready, it’s too much and this and that. It just goes to show you there is a process and you have to be patient."