Hate to say I told you so… what am I talking about? I’m thrilled to say I told you so. That 7-1 loss to Detroit in a wonderful pond-hockey display by the Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night did turn out to be virtually meaningless, perhaps just a wake-up call for a team that had been playing solid hockey, but was due for a letdown.
Tuesday night’s 2-1 thriller over the hottest team in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild, back home inside the friendly confines of tiny MTS Centre, was the important game for the Winnipeg Jets this week and set the tone for a six-game homestand that could put the Jets in the thick of the playoff race with 15-of-19 on the road stariung in January.
Well, OK, this homestand will have to put the Jets in the thick of the playoff hunt because as we have learned, the Winnipegs are a great team at home, but not so wonderful on the road.
On Tuesday night, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 34 saves and Bryan Little scored the winning goal on a power-play at the 15-minute mark of the third period as the Jets beat the No. 1 team in the NHL in front of another wild and raucous at the little downtown arena. With the win, the Jets improved to 14-12-4 on the season and moved into 10th place in the East. The Jets are now one point behind seventh-place Buffalo and eighth-place New Jersey.
The Jets also stopped Minnesota’s seven-game winning streak. It was, as they say, a huge game for the young Jets who have won five in a row at home and five of their last six. Good thing they aren’t getting a lot of rest. This team has figured out how to play in front of the crazy home crowd where they will get Washington on Thursday, Anaheim on Saturday, the Islanders next Tuesday, Montreal next Thursday and Pittsburgh next Friday before taking a holiday break then heading to Denver for a game with the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 27.
The Jets are now 10-4-0 at home and just 4-8-4 on the road. It’s obvious why this six-game homestand and this stretch of 13-of-15 at home is so important.
"I think this win proves to teams that we’re up there," said Little after Tuesday’s victory. "It proves we can play with the best teams in the league. Especially in our arena. We wanted to make this a tough arena to come play in and to beat those teams in our building is huge for our confidence."
Tuesday night, the Jets fell behind 1-0 after giving up a second-period power play goal to Guillaume Latendresse and then battled back with a goal from Zach Bogosian — who bounced back from a minus-four in Detroit to be plus-two against the Wild — and held on long enough to get the winner from Little.
Pavelec was terrific once again, making a load of outstanding saves, half-a-dozen of them worthy of play of the game.
"We battled hard tonight," said Pavelec, who gave all the credit to his teammates. "It wasn’t an easy win. Minnesota is a really tough team to play against, but we battled tonight. We battled all game long."
Indeed they did. Bogosian, Little, Evander Kane (he played more than 22 minutes), Tanner Glass, Ron Hainsey (played nine seconds more than Kane), Blake Wheeler (played 43 seconds more than Kane), Mark Stuart with five big hits and Jim Slater all played very well and were full marks for a victory that could set the stage for an important run to the holidays.
"What I like best is the emotional level at which we’re playing," said Jets head coach Claude Noel in his post-game news conference. "There are no easy games. We’re proving that to other people — at least, at home — and we’re having some success, but eventually we have to get back to the road games and we have to find a way to get our record back to .500 on the road. That will give us a chance to make the playoffs."
Noel is a bright man. He’s laid down this challenge to his team: "Make the playoffs or consider your season a failure." He knows, however, that the only way the Jets make the playoffs is to get to .500 on the road and that might be the real challenge.
As for now, however, the only thing that should be on anyone’s mind is to keep the winning streak going at home.