It went deep into the night for Claude Noel’s brand of joy to come to the MTS Centre on Thursday, but when it did, the eruption was another Winnipeg moment in the city’s new-era NHL.
Evander Kane chopped in the only goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime to give the Winnipeg Jets a 1-0 triumph over the stubborn Los Angeles Kings.
"It’s a great feeling scoring an overtime goal," said Kane, who has scored 18 on the season.
"The game is over and you’re able to win it for your team, but it was a great effort by all the guys. Our penalty kill deserves a lot of credit, they did a great job. It was a great team effort."
The killers helped save the day mid-way through the second, when defencemen Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart offered the Kings a two-man advantage for one minute 52 seconds.
Jets goalie Chris Mason didn’t yield and eventually earned his first shutout of the season with 31 saves.
"People look at him as our backup goalie but I don’t think anybody in
this room does," Kane said. "He’s been rock-solid for us anytime he’s had to come in and we have a lot of confidence in him."
Mason said he couldn’t wait to get to the overtime celebration 190 feet away.
"I don’t know if it’s a relief or you’re just so excited to see it go
in," the goalie said. "I can’t get down there fast enough."
Mason, earning the 22nd shutout of his career, has helped the Jets immensely this season when Ondrej Pavelec has a night off.
He’s now 5-2-0 with a goals-against average of 1.91 and a save percentage of .927.
"He gives you no reason to not play him," Noel, the Jet head coach said in a rather sensible double negative. "We’ve got two good goalies. It’s one of the reasons we’re doing so well."
The victory bumped the Jets (18-14-5) into a sixth-place tie with the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference, all at 41 points.
A month of favourable schedule now has one game to go, Saturday’s contest here against the Leafs.
Winnipeg, so far in a run of 13 of 15 at home, is 9-4-1 since it started, and has moved up into the playoff mix.
Thursday’s win came with three key performers in sick bay. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who became a father for the first time late Wednesday, is out for about a week with a lower-body injury and centres Bryan Little (foot) and Jim Slater (upper body) were also missing.
When the Jets couldn’t get an early foothold on the scoreboard Thursday, the Kings (18-14-6 and 4-0-2 in their last six) had what they wanted, a tighter game more suitable to their third outing in four nights.
"We kind of figured it would be a low-scoring game; they didn’t play as tired as I thought," Mason said. "We did what it took to win tonight. It was great seeing that puck go in in overtime."
With both teams blowing five-on-threes during the night, the low-scoring affair was indeed on, and the fans should get used to it as the calendar turns over to 2012.
"Teams are playing for points, whether it’s one... it doesn’t really matter to anybody," Noel said. "If you’re fortunate enough to be above the line, it’s huge, those points. If you’re below the line, you’re trying to get two and it’s a little bit different.
"Every night, the level’s heating up and I think the points are becoming more important. Right now, we’re defending well and I think you can see that needs to become the foundation of your game.
"It gives an opportunity to be there at the end."
The Jets summoned it up late on Thursday. After blowing their five-on-three early in the third, they appeared to be focused on not losing the game in regulation.
"The third, I thought was so-so," Noel added. "We played on our heels a little bit. We wanted to get at least a point out of the game."