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Jets pull out Bolt cutters

Wellwood's OT winner gives 'Peg back-to-back road wins

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TAMPA, Fla. -- They're certainly not going to remind anyone of those potent Edmonton Oilers squads of the 1980s, the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the late '70s or the Big, Bad Bruins.

 

But the Winnipeg Jets appear to have rediscovered -- and, yes, the evidence is still circumstantial even after Thursday's 2-1 overtime victory over the Tampa Lighting -- their winning blueprint.

And it is built on this: All hands on deck with 20 guys all pitching in, stellar goaltending and just a smidgen of offence.

Now comes the next critical hurdle -- doing it again immediately against the Florida Panthers tonight in Sunrise.

"We have to have the same mentality," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who was outstanding against the Bolts. "Never quit, never say die is our motto right now. We're going to play you hard for 60 minutes and if you beat us then hats off to you, but it's going to be tough."

So awful for most of January, the Jets have been a different squad, if not a tad more opportunistic, in the two games since the all-star break. The Jets followed up Tuesday's 2-1 shootout victory in Philadelphia with another defensive gem as Ondrej Pavelec kicked out 30 shots, Dustin Byfuglien returned from injury to give the squad more-than-expected minutes and Kyle Wellwood played the hero at 3:14 of overtime, sending 16,923 at Tampa Bay Times Forum -- aside from a very vocal minority of Jets faithful -- home in a sour mood.

Asked if he could remember the last time he potted an OT winner, Wellwood grinned then said:

"I have no idea. I don't even know if I have one. That's a nice feeling, even though there was an empty net to put it in."

And then he hammered home what the Jets, now 24-22-6, are all about with 30 games remaining.

"The defence and Pavelec are the story of our team right now," Wellwood said. "We've got some things at forward where everybody's kind of in different spots that they're not accustomed to, besides the top line. We're trying to get the job done offensively and it's a work in progress."

The Jets managed to shut down a Lightning squad that had reeled off five consecutive wins with their defensive effort, limiting the red-hot Steven Stamkos -- the NHL's top goal man with 33 -- to just two shots while blocking 16. And they needed it, given this: Winnipeg has just three regulation goals in the last four games.

"I'm not really too concerned with our scoring too much," said head coach Claude Noel. "We're playing well, we're playing hard. I like some of the things that we do and we're managing the game in the proper way, we're managing the score and our effort's good. Can you keep it up? Right now it's about winning, we're winning some games and that's a good thing."

Just as important is the Jets have got it done on the road this week. It's still not close to being respectable, but Winnipeg's road record is now 9-14-4 and the mantra continues to be to tread water during this current stretch of nine road contests in 11 games before an eight-game stint at home from Feb. 17-March 5.

"Our backs are against the wall, kinda," added Wheeler. "We dug ourselves a bit of a hole in January and we came out of it and realized we were still in the race. It's a tight one, there's teams creeping up behind us and we're creeping up on teams, too. We're focused on if we can get to that long stretch of home games, I don't know when it is exactly but it's coming up, if we can get somewhere near that top eight when we go into that stretch then there's no reason we can't be in it until the end."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2012 C3

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