Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets may have lost game, but they found their mettle

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If you've been sitting on the fence and looking for a moment or series of events to begin believing in the Winnipeg Jets you may have got it Saturday afternoon.

It might strike some as odd that a game technically recorded as a loss is being viewed as a touchstone of positivity but a deeper look shows Saturday's effort to be so much more than an overtime defeat worth only one point in the standings.

The Jets fought back from a 2-0 deficit against one of the NHL's best teams when leading and pushed the St. Louis Blues to overtime before losing in the shootout.

In so doing, Winnipeg stuck to its plan from beginning to end and looked like a team that not only knows what it takes to win but is willing to execute.

The Jets are far from a finished product but they're much closer to resembling a playoff team than have been at any previous point this season. They understand who they are and how they have to play to achieve good things.

Never has that been more evident than in Saturday's game. You can call it a loss but Jets coach Claude Noel almost went so far as to call it his team's best game of the season.

"What it tells our team, it tells us how we can play when we all play well. To me, the game we played today is -- I don't know if it's an identifying moment -- but it's an identifying game where we can sit and say, 'Look, that's one of the better games I've seen us play,'" said Noel. "That's our 'A' game. Now we know where the bar is. That's the way I would measure games like this. Sometimes you wait a long time to see that game, sometimes you see it after 20-25 games, sometimes you wait until now. Now I'm happy we got a game like this."

Immature teams, when faced with a two-goal deficit, often abandon their game plan and go down roads that lead to outright losses. The Blues make their living on this knowledge and hold a 18-5-1 record when leading after the first period like they did Saturday. Getting a point, as the Jets did, is difficult and a rarity.

"We could have lost this game. We were down 2-0, we stuck with it. There's a lot of things to like about this game," said Noel. "We were really engaged in the game mentally, that's what I really liked. Right from the start... we did what we wanted to do in the first, we played how we wanted to play, we out-shot them and we were down 2-0. Two weeks ago we could have been really demoralized in this game. But we weren't. We regrouped, we stuck with it, we got rewarded and it was 2-2. From that standpoint it was a really good game."

Noel has been massaging his club's psyche all season trying to get them to where they are now.

Captain Andrew Ladd says his team has developed a belief system over the season and is now seeing the rewards of having faith in it.

"I've seen some positive things around here lately and put them all into this game. We didn't stray from our structure and we kept making the smart decisions," said Ladd. "Now we know what the results can be when we play that way and it gives us confidence in what we can do and what we want to do."

There's lots of work to be done in terms of the Jets making the playoffs but Saturday they showed they know where the shovels are kept and how to use them.

The digging has begun, now we all get to watch and see what they can uncover.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2012 B2

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Updated on Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 3:58 PM CST: adds colour photo

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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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