Given up for dead just over two weeks ago — they had stumbled home with the greyish, ghoulish complexion of your average zombie after dropping five straight — the Winnipeg Jets have bolted up from the grave and found new life.
And while they surrendered a point in Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders at the MTS Centre in a crazy-but-entertaining tilt that had the emotion of a playoff game, their 5-0-1 run at home has kept them very much in the post-season discussion heading into the final week of the regular season.
Now 23-19-3 and with 49 points, the Jets remain in ninth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race — one back of the New York Rangers and three shy of the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals, who knocked off the Canadiens in Montreal Saturday night.
Just as important as the point lost, it could be said, was the point gained as the Jets rallied three times from deficits — including a 3-1 hole and then a tying goal with the net empty with two minutes remaining.
"It was an emotional game," said Jets centre Bryan Little. "We put everything we had into it and kept fighting our way back into the game."
For all the pre-game chatter about two of the NHL’s hottest lines — the Jets’ Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler trio vs. New York’s Matt Moulson-John Tavares-Brad Boyes — it was the Isles’ second line that dominated early. Both Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey scored for New York, with Zach Bogosian’s fifth of the year sandwiched between, as the visitors opened up a 2-1 lead after one.
But just as important were these subplots: Evander Kane didn’t take the pre-game skate and didn’t look 100 per cent; Olli Jokinen was injured early and only played two shifts; Bogosian didn’t finish the game after taking a nasty hit from Kyle Okposo, severely affecting the Jets lineup.
Down 3-1 and on the ropes, the Jets rally courtesy two goals by Kyle Wellwood. A third — which would have been the first hat trick for the franchise since Eric Boulton in December of 2010 — went in just after the buzzer sounded to end the middle frame. Wellwood would also be robbed in OT as Lubomir Vishnovsky blocked a shot the Jets vet gobbled up right after Grant Clitsome clanged one off the post.
The Jets leave Michael Grabner alone in front for the go-ahead goal, but then tie it in dramatic fashion when Claude Noel pulls the goalie with the Jets heading to a power play with 2:08 left. Risky move, big-time rewards as Little deftly cashes on a six-on-four advantage.
"We’re trying to win the game, we’re trying to get a goal, so you’ve got the advantage if a player can get possession of the puck with one extra player... to me, it makes sense," explained Noel.
Overtime / shootout
The extra space created by four-on-four means the OT is a dandy, but neither Ondrej Pavelec or Evgeni Nabokov are beaten. In the shootout, Wheeler is stopped, Mike Santorelli hits the post and Andrew Ladd scores for the Jets, but the Isles answer with goals by Boyes and Tavares for the win.
After the buzzer
It’s now a three-game sprint for the Jets, beginning Monday in Buffalo, continuing Tuesday in Washington and then wrapping up next Thursday against Montreal.
"We’re going to go to Buffalo, we’re going to try and get two points," said Noel. "We’re not looking past them. It’s the same thing you guys have heard for the last 16 games."