Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wild night in Winnipeg

Jets survive sloppy first, batten hatches to close out win

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JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Winnipeg's Evander Kane celebrates his first-period short-handed goal with a few friends Friday night at the MTS Centre.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg's Evander Kane celebrates his first-period short-handed goal with a few friends Friday night at the MTS Centre. Photo Store

It was hardly the perfect example of textbook hockey... unless the manual was titled:

How To Drive Your Coach Nuts In 15 Minutes Or Less.

But the Winnipeg Jets -- a team desperate to stop a two-game losing skid and with just three wins in its last 10 -- will take any kind of 'W' they can muster as the midway point of the NHL season approaches, especially if it comes against a Central Division rival.

Far from perfect but good enough, the Jets survived a sloppy first period in which seven goals were scored -- four by the home side -- and then settled down for an important 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild at the MTS Centre Friday night.

"It was entertaining," said Evander Kane, who scored his 11th of the season, with a grin. "It was good to get a win after Christmas, a division win, and start after the holiday break on the right note."

Added Kane, when it was suggested it probably wasn't the game plan draw up for a predominantly defensive squad like the Wild: "It probably wasn't the same one they had drawn up for us, either. Sometimes that happens."

THE NUTTY FIRST 20

What do you get when you combine three days rest + seven goals in just over 15 minutes +one goaltender yanked + the same goaltender abusing his stick outside dressing room? One period of absolutely wacky NHL hockey.

The Jets and Wild, who had combined to score five goals in their last two games combined -- lit up the scoreboard with seven in the opening 20 minutes, including two Minny goals 10 seconds apart that gave the visitors a brief 3-2 advantage.

The Wild got goals from Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux in the first -- the third goal chasing a fuming Ondrej Pavelec from the net -- but the Jets countered with goals by Kane, Olli Jokinen, Blake and Dustin Byfuglien to take a 4-3 lead into the second.

"We were ahead after the first, so I think that's the only positive we can take out of that," said captain Andrew Ladd. "Sometimes in doing that (pulling Pavelec and replacing him with Al Montoya) you can calm your team down a little bit or send a message. I thought Monts did a great job once he got in there. The first three goals, there's nothing Pav could have done about them. It was more about just trying to get some momentum for our group on the bench."

CLOSING IT DOWN

The Jets gave up the equalizer to Minnesota early in the second on Mikko Koivu's eighth, but the Jets rallied on Wheeler's 14th -- the eventual game-winner -- and sealed it when Toby Enstrom potted his fourth into an empty net.

Wheeler's pair were his eighth and ninth goals in his last 12 games, a stretch where he's found a groove with 12 points (including three assists).

"It hasn't been an easy month, it's been tough," said Wheeler. "I think a lot of our guys have done a lot of soul searching. Losing hockey games isn't a whole lot of fun. It's not a whole lot of fun to be productive in losses. You want to produce towards wins.

"For myself, it's been kind of a weird month. It's been a lot of times looking in the mirror and trying to figure out what you can do differently to help this team. There's been a lot of ups and downs, peaks and valleys. I don't really know how to describe it... it's been disappointing overall.

"It was bizarre," added Wheeler, when asked about the opening 20 minutes. "I mentioned it to (Olli Jokinen), I stepped on the ice one time and it was 1-1. The next time I got out there it was 3-2 for Minnesota. It was bizarre, a weird stretch I haven't really seen very often. I don't think it was the game either team predicted going into the night but it's the way it turned out and we did a good job of adapting and finding a way to gut out a win."

WHAT IT MEANS

First, the Jets improve to 17-18-5 and move two points closer to the Wild, one of the teams they are trying to reel in for a playoff spot. And, yes, it was important that in a tight final 40 minutes they got solid goaltending, tightened up defensively and were opportunistic when it mattered most.

But now more of it is needed Sunday in Denver and then after that against Buffalo on New Year's Eve, Ottawa on Jan. 2 and...

"We know what it is, it's one game, one win," said Ladd. "Now we have to look forward to Colorado and trying to do the same thing there. I'm sure you guys are sick of asking the same questions and we're sick of answering the same questions.

"We all know what we need to do."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele (centre) gets hauled down by Minnesota Wild skaters Dany Heatley (left) and Mikael Granlund during the first period.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 C1

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