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This article was published 5/12/2018 (254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NEW YORK — The Winnipeg Jets escaped from New York in the wee hours Wednesday mentally drained after three tense road games with a depleted roster due to a rash of injuries.
But, as is the way in sports, teams define themselves by the sum of their parts and, in many ways, the Jets returned to the Manitoba capital a much stronger collective.
And as some guy named Mark Twain once wrote, "Make your mark in New York and you are a made man."
The Jets registered three straight victories in four nights over Metropolitan Division teams to greatly enhance their record to 17-8-2 (36 points) and bolster their position in the Central. They remain in third place but have moved within a point of the Colorado Avalanche with a game in hand and trail the Nashville Predators by three points, also with a game in hand.
Winnipeg is on a four-game win streak that began last Thursday, when they hung on to beat the visiting Chicago Blackhawks 6-5.
The Jets practise Thursday and then welcome the struggling St. Louis Blues Friday night, the first of four consecutive games at Bell MTS Place. They are 9-2-2 at the downtown rink, a respectable 7-5-0 in road buildings and, let's not forget, 1-1 in Helsinki.
Victories come in all shapes and sizes, and the trio of triumphs recorded here demonstrate the Jets are finding offbeat ways — no wonder, given the way injuries have altered the team's roster in recent weeks — to pick up points in what is unquestionably their best stretch of play so far this year.
But before the trip, fans were clearly worried about the team's defensive inconsistency, its struggle to hold a lead and Connor Hellebuyck's faltering numbers.
The angst level should be starting to taper off now, veteran defenceman Tyler Myers said Tuesday before the Jets made it three-for-three in Brooklyn against the Islanders.
"If you look at last year, I don't know if we had a better record at this point in the season than we do right now," the fifth-year Jet said.
"I think at the start of the year we were having success in games where most guys would say we weren't playing up to the level we expect of ourselves. But over the last 10 games it's been a lot better for our group... looking at the games on this road trip, that's the kind of hockey we want to play.
"We know we have a good team here. We know we have the team to do something special, and it's just a matter of not looking too far ahead, taking it game by game. I think the preparation the coaches bring into the room is a huge help, especially to the young guys. You can see them building their game. It's a good thing we have going right now."
In fact, Myers was off, but only by a paltry two points; at the 27-game mark last season, Winnipeg was 17-7-4 on Dec. 5, before dropping four of its next five outings.
The 6-8, 230-pound defender said prosperity wasn't guaranteed just because a club that advanced to last year's Western Conference final remained pretty much intact when it was time to go back to work in the fall.
"Nothing was going to come easy for us. This league has so much parity in it, and you find out pretty quick whatever happened the year before, whatever successes you achieved, has nothing to do with the situations you step into the next year," added Myers, who played his best hockey of the season in New York.
The team's health, or lack thereof, on the blue line is the biggest challenge right now. Top-pairing performer Josh Morrissey (lower body), was a surprise late scratch against the Islanders, although head coach Paul Maurice insisted what ails him is only a short-term thing, while the return of big-minute man Dustin Byfuglien (concussion) hasn't been determined. Joe Morrow (lower body) and Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) are also on the shelf.
In their place, the Jets dressed Manitoba Moose defencemen Sami Niku, Cam Schilling and Nelson Nogier, who performed admirably under trying circumstances. Niku looked lost in his season debut against the Blackhawks, but showed a growing comfort level in New York.
"It speaks volumes to the depth that we have in this organization and the quality of the people we have," said centre Adam Lowry. "Those (Byfuglien and Morrissey) are two huge guys to replace, so a lot of guys stepped in and it seemed like we didn’t miss a beat. That’s a real good sign for us that we have guys like that who can step in and it doesn’t look like we’re missing a whole lot."
Defenceman Jacob Trouba had a sensational trip, scoring once and adding a pair of assists while logging an average of 27 minutes of ice time — and looking every bit like the elite rearguard he and his representatives maintain he should be compensated as.
Hellebuyck, meanwhile, was a pillar of strength against coach Barry Trotz's improving Islanders squad, stopping 27 of 28 shots. He won both of his starts, looking more like the puck-stopper the hockey world was accustomed to seeing a year ago. While online commenters clamour for more Laurent Brossoit, getting Hellebuyck in a groove is the priority.
Here's a quick recap of the New York excursion:
On Saturday in New Jersey, the Jets owned a 3-1 lead in the third period only to have the Devils storm back with two late tallies to even the contest. Undeterred, the visitors pressed for the winner in overtime and Mark Scheifele, playing on fumes, provided it, stealing the puck and firing a quick shot at goalie Keith Kinkaid before tucking in his own rebound. It was the second goal of the game for Winnipeg's No.1 centre as Winnipeg posted a 4-3 win.
The next night at Madison Square Garden, Scheifele again supplied the spark with his 16th goal of the season and the shootout winner as the Jets rallied from a 3-0 deficit after two to beat the New York Rangers 4-3.
Finally, they engaged in a tight, plodding affair with the Islanders, preferring to keep things simple with a glut of injuries on their blue-line. Trouba and Adam Lowry scored 22 seconds apart early in the third period, boosting the Jets to a 3-1 victory in Brooklyn.
It's a span of games that could well be a major turning point.
"We had so much success last year playing a good defensive game, a real tight defensive game, and kind of letting our offensive instincts take over when they needed to," said centre Bryan Little. "I think we can definitely get a little better at that, being comfortable in those close games... but for the most part we're finding ways to win and that's the only thing that matters.
"Rallying like when we were down 3-0 (to the Rangers) and believing the team could come back and win that game — and we did, we stuck with it — that belief here, which is a good thing."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).