ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's been a lingering question in NHL circles for the past week -- are the Winnipeg Jets for real?
The answer came here Tuesday night at the venerable Honda Center, the place where visiting NHL teams have gone to die this season -- and it was a resounding yes.
The Jets defeated the league-leading Anaheim Ducks 3-2 Tuesday night to give newly installed head coach Paul Maurice his fourth straight victory since taking over from Claude Noel on Jan. 12.
But even more impressive than what now ties the longest winning streak for the Jets this season is who it came against -- an Anaheim team that boasts the best record in the NHL and had yet to be beaten in regulation time, boasting a 20-0-2 record, until Winnipeg hung one on them on the strength of a sensational performance by goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on a night the Jets were outshot 42-21.
The win bumped Winnipeg's season record back to .500 at 23-23-5 and would seem to erase any lingering questions about whether Winnipeg's previous victories under Maurice last week over Phoenix, Calgary and Edmonton were a genuine turnaround or simply the result of catching a series of struggling opponents at an opportune time.
Consider the context
It is difficult to overstate just how unlikely this Jets victory was last night.
In addition to the Ducks's league-leading overall record and their outright dominance at home this season, Anaheim also got the first goal of the game on a shot from the point by Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler at 3:59 of the first period.
The Ducks have been dominating this season when scoring first, taking a 22-3-4 record into the game. But a soft goal by Jets winger Blake Wheeler on Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller just 80 seconds after Fowler's goal got the Jets back to even and then Jets captain Andrew Ladd gave the Jets the lead for good on a tip-in at 18:36 of the opening period.
A second-period short-handed goal from a sharp angle by Jets forward Evander Kane put the Jets up 3-1 and that was enough for Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, who gave Hiller the hook at that point in favour of backup Frederik Andersen.
About that third period
The Ducks had Winnipeg under siege for almost the entirety of the the third period and got within a goal midway through the final period when Ducks centre Nick Bonino pushed a rebound past a sprawled Pavelec at 10:18.
But Pavelec was not to be denied the victory on this night, turning away 40 of 42 shots, many of them from point-blank range and in the midst of mad scrambles in front of his net during what was a 16-shot third period onslaught by the Ducks.