One week ago, the Winnipeg Jets lost 2-1 in Columbus. Three games and seven days later all you can think is, "How the hell did that happen?"
It’s amazing. The Jets that completed a week-long roller-coaster ride this past Saturday afternoon, was a completely different hockey team than the one that couldn’t muster any kind of offence against a bad Columbus crew.
This week’s Jets played with speed, heart and, yes, intelligence and just when it looked like the highly-skilled Philadelphia Flyers were going to come back from a 5-1 deficit and make the Jets look foolish, Nik Antropov scored a power-play goal and suddenly there was euphoria at MTS Centre.
In the tiny little building in downtown Winnipeg, a building with too-few pissers, the Jets sent their fans home delirious after recording a 6-4 victory over the visiting Flyers. In two games this season, the Jets and Flyers have combined to score 27 goals and yet the Jets have come out on top both times. If someone had presented that scenario at the start of the season, people would have laughed.
Now let’s not pull any punches here. The Jets built a 5-1 lead on Saturday and nearly blew it. They got tremendously sloppy in the third period and they easily could have allowed a Philadelphia team wasn’t about to roll over, an opportunity they never should have been afforded. In the final 20 minutes, the Jets got back on their heels, Evander Kane picked up three chintzy penalties and if the Flyers had any luck on the power-play might have sent this one into overtime — or worse.
And yet, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who started to look shaky in the second period (he gave up the first two goals on only 12 shots), stopped 11 shots in the third and kept the Jets in the game long enough to allow Antropov to pot the insurance tally with only 1:14 left to play.
For the first two periods, however, the Jets made a statement. They scored three power-play goals — two by Bryan Little — and a shorthanded goal by Jim Slater on a bullet shot, and dominated a team that most experts would suggest is better, man-for-man, than the Jets. The line of Kane, Little and Blake Wheeler got plenty of icetime and really were the difference for 40 minutes. They were fast and strong on the puck and played well both on the power play and at even strength.
"Our special teams were fairly good, but we still took too many penalties," said head coach Claude Noel. "Our group is playing well together and I hope this is who we are. We’ve talked a lot about raising the bar and playing at a higher level. Right now, we’re pretty good."
Andrew Ladd had a goal and assist, Kyle Wellwood played a strong game and had two assists, Little scored twice and big Dustin Byfuglien — who was all over the ice, although not always in the right place — had a goal and two assists. In the end, the Jets outshot Philly 40-31 and were full marks for the victory.
With the win, the Jets improved to 8-9-3 on the season and won their third straight game, their third straight game over a good Eastern Conference team and their third straight game at home. They also won their third straight game after a five-game winless stretch.,
However, they will now head back out onto the road for games on Wednesday in Washington, Friday in Raleigh and next Saturday in Boston. That will be a test.
"I like our group, I really like the way we work," said Noel. "We still have our sights set on the playoffs. I trust this group. The only thing that really sticks out to me is our penalties, our discipline. I have to do a better job coaching that. We’re going to have some meetings about that, no doubt about it."
Noel wondered out loud on Saturday: "… I hope this is who we are." If a 5-2 win over Tampa, a 4-1 win over Washington and a 6-4 win over Philadelphia is who the Jets really are, this is a better team than everyone expected.