The strain may have been masked by the players and coaching staff but ending a three-game skid produced obvious relief in and around the Winnipeg Jets.
"That's better. I feel a lot better now," uttered the wife of a member of the Jets as a reporter walked by shortly following Tuesday night's 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers.
Team wives don't often have much to say to reporters other than the odd scowl following a rather damning write-up or the much more rare smile following something complimentary being printed. So an unsolicited, "whew," belies how much pressure the Winnipeg Jets were feeling prior to last night's win.
The saying, "happy wife, happy life," is true in hockey homes but when a player or coach is miserable, often so is his house. Last night's win clearly took the air out of a giant stress balloon.
The victory gave the Jets a pair of points and pushed them to nine points on the season and back in the NHL playoff picture.
"It was a big load off our shoulders. It's a relief for us," said coach Claude Noel. "Losing three in a row and the way we lost them and the goals against wore on the players. I think the win was very important for us. Our players were tentative early in the game. It looked like we'd never played together before. I think that was a sign of the pressure they were feeling."
Jets winger Bryan Little whipped home the winner with a sharp shot that Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen barely saw as it zinged by him to set off the red light and pop the tension out of the Jets on the bench and fans in the stands.
"It's huge. With the shortened season, every point is important. At this stage two points is better than one and we need it," said Little.
The Jets are now 4-4-1 with just over a fifth of this shortened 48-game season gone. The quarter pole is only three games away and Little says it's already time to be watching the standings.
"We have to be paying attention to where we are. I'm glad we don't have to worry about what losing four games would have meant to us," said Little. "You can't lose too much ground or there won't be a lot of time left to make it up. Wins are important right now and this one was big for us."
The Jets allowed 18 goals against while losing three straight road games last week and then had three days off prior to Tuesday night's game. Noel elected to teach and push positive messages during the break.
"Everyone knows we have to play better and more consistent. We're not playing 82 games and you can't afford to have a bad couple of weeks," said Little. "Claude used the last couple of days to teach and try to give us support. He could have come in and bag-skated us and given us crap but he didn't and I think it was the right move."
Little says the players understand Noel's message and they are buying into it.
"I've had a different coach every year until Claude. I've seen guys that aren't behind the coach and guys that are but everyone is behind Claude," said Little. "The bottom line and biggest thing is everyone in here trusts him."
Noel has stated his team must stay above the playoff line and not drift too far below it. And as devastating as strings of losses are to that goal, putting wins together works in the reverse.
"If we can put a few wins together now, we can put those tough days behind us. That's what our focus has to be," said Little.
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