Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets have started to figure it all out

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They left Winnipeg amid a chorus of snickers and jeers.

They sucked. They knew it and the fans knew it. No winnin' for MacKinnon was beginning to gain some steam in the newspapers and radio call-in shows.

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Life was hard and most likely about to get harder for the Winnipeg Jets after losing four of five games.

The road, it seemed almost certain knowing this team's history, would now apply the cruelest of February blows and put this shortened season out of its misery before it really even began.

But somewhere along the way from Winnipeg to Buffalo, the Jets figured a few things out.

Ondrej Pavelec pulled his pads together. Evander Kane went from warm to smoking hot. Olli Jokinen's offensive game jumped off a milk carton and on to the scoresheet. Andrew Ladd turned his intensity meter up from 10 to 11.

Five games and four wins later, the Jets are 9-9-1 and on the edge of the playoff picture while playing a brand of hockey they can sustain.

This isn't a hockey high-wire act that need come crashing down. This is a streak based on a solid foundation of team-based hockey. The turnovers have been minimized, the attention to detail and puck management improved.

This is a balanced approach with contributions from all over the lineup.

Hello, Anthony Peluso. First NHL fight on Sunday, first NHL points on Tuesday.

Kane has points in an NHL-leading eight games.

Ladd is emerging as one of the NHL's most underrated players offering consistent scoring while doing all the little things right.

Pavelec is playing B-plus hockey -- doing nightly what he must to give his team a chance to win.

The blue-line, short-handed with Toby Enstrom and Zach Redmond out, has been heroic following the lead of a banged up Dustin Byfuglien. They've simplified their approach and focused on moving the puck quickly while leaving the breathless dashes to others.

All this was preceded by dark days, including four straight home defeats.

The Jets, at 5-8-1 prior to this trip, knew better than anyone else what they needed to accomplish on the road.

"I don't want to say this is the most important trip of the season but if we don't win some games we're going to be in a very big hole," said Pavelec, following his team's 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins back on Feb. 19.

Head coach Claude Noel had also determined his club was in peril of having its season fade into a long string of meaningless games.

"You have to win two of every three games," said Noel, on the eve of this string of games away from the MTS Centre. "You have to find a way to win on this road trip or it will be a real grind."

Halfway through it, Noel called the turnaround on the road, "unbelievable for us."

The opportunity to fade and have the, "they're still the Atlanta Thrashers," catcalls ring out had become low hanging fruit. Instead they found some spine and shot the doubters a double-barrelled bird.

"Losing four in a row at home -- the level of urgency and desperation had to be high on this trip and it was," said Kane, following a three-point effort in Tuesday's win over the Rangers. "The urgency and desperation must continue."

The Jets have shown themselves what they can accomplish. They have finally figured out, as Noel likes to say, "how to play to win and not just play to play."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2013 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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