The humour isn't likely to last but the Winnipeg Jets broke out of their six-game losing streak with a laugher on Sunday night at the MTS Centre.
The Jets hit a brief speed bump in the first period -- two Dallas goals in 37 seconds gave the visitors a 2-1 lead -- but revved their engines hard and kept right on going down the road in a 7-2 trouncing of the Stars before 15,004 happy customers.
It was the largest offensive outburst of the season for the Jets, who have struggled recently to exceed two goals on most nights. Their last "laugher" of any sort was two months ago to the day in Calgary, an eventual 5-2 win.
More importantly, the surplus was an emphatic end to their 0-3-3 slide and kept alive talk of the Western Conference playoff race.
The Jets, now with 71 points, pulled to within four of the Stars, who hold the eighth and final playoff position today. Between the teams are the Phoenix Coyotes, also at 75, and the Vancouver Canucks, at 72.
"I feel like the last couple of games we've been having our chances," said Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom, who had a goal and two assists. "Today's just a day where we took care of the chances we had and scored some goals. I think it was good for the team."
Goals by Michael Frolik and Enstrom, on a gritty, persistent setup by Wheeler -- one of the big winger's four assists on the night -- launched the home team into the lead before the end of the first period, and then Olli Jokinen scored just 29 seconds into the second to reveal the plot for the rest of the night.
Embrace The Pressure
A great sign for the Jets on this night was that though they were momentarily stunned by Dallas goals by Alex Chiasson and the fleet Tyler Seguin, the speed of their own game showed they can play with the Stars.
And Wheeler led the charge with big plays in the early going.
"It's been a tough road for us the last six so you have a team that was obviously highly motivated and pissed off and did all the right things to be ready to go," Wheeler said. "We've got these guys again down the road. It's going to be a really tough team. They're a proud group and a really good team."
That the Jets "needed" this game at all costs, and delivered, was encouraging, Wheeler said.
"We're a team that haven't done it yet as a group," he said. "You have to learn to win in this league and that's all part of it. To have kind of a must-win game and to show up and have a good night from top to bottom, that's a good sign."
Embrace it, part II
Early in the day, Jets coach Paul Maurice said he wasn't hiding from the urgency of the game, and wanted his team to embrace nervousness and pressure.
"I'm talking about being 1-2 early in the game," Maurice said after the win. "You're down but the bench was right. There was lots of chatter, lots of talk and the game didn't change. We didn't change what we were trying to do. It's a really important learning process for a young team in a big game, getting down early and coming back and being very good."
Maurice said after the game Dustin Byfuglien's absence from the bench for the final 10 minutes of the game was just "precautionary," and he expects the big winger to be in uniform tonight in St. Louis.
Byfuglien had two goals and an assist and was plus-three at that point, and had just missed a third-period breakaway that would have given him the first hat trick in Jets 2.0 history.
"He felt that if he got the third goal there would be far too much attention on him," Maurice said with a straight face. "He doesn't want to get shadowed on the ice.
"No, it's just precautionary."
No celebration time
The Jets quickly departed for St. Louis after the game, and must face the first-overall Blues tonight.
Another monster test follows on Wednesday, when Colorado visits the MTS Centre.