Jets check Kings, score first OT win
KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
|Los Angeles Kings defenceman Rob Scuderi (left) ties up Winnipeg Jets right winger Blake Wheeler (centre) in front of Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier during NHL hockey in Winnipeg on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. (Brian Donogh/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - Attention Jets fans: Find out when Evander Kane drives to the rink before every game and cut him off. Locate his vehicle, get in front of him and slam on the brakes.
The young man plays a good hockey game when he’s angry. Take Thursday night’s game against the L.A. Kings. He dished out seven hits, tried to fight Jack Johnson, blocked four shots and then got rewarded with the overtime winner in the 1-0 triumph that moved the Jets up to seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
There were a lot of Jets playing with burrs under their saddles against the Kings, but the biggest appeared to be under Kane’s.
It paid off in the end.
“You know, I get cut off a lot, to be honest,” Kane said with a chuckle in the dressing room. “But no, nobody made me mad. You don’t play against (Western Conference) teams too often, and I guess the first five minutes you kind of get a feel of the game. It was obviously an intense game out there.”
Was it ever. Jets head coach Claude Noel warned after the morning skate that it was going to be a “heavy game,” as he likes to call them. His players listened, because even guys who don’t play with bite in their games too often — Alex Burmistrov and Kyle Wellwood, for instance — brought some sand paper to Thursday’s victory, which gave Winnipeg its first winning streak since it took four in a row between Dec. 1 and 9.
Five players had three hits or more. Six had two blocked shots or more. They all prevented a talented Kings lineup from scoring a single goal and have surrendered just one tally in the last two outings. In the end, everybody did what they had to do to earn two points.
“It was a 0-0 game, so every shift was crucial, and guys knew that going out there,” said Kane, who leads the Jets with 18 goals — one shy of his career high. “Guys like Burmi, he’s only 185 pounds, but he’s probably one of the strongest guys on his skates on the team. He’s knocked down (Zdeno) Chara twice this season already. I don’t think anybody’s done that. It’s great to see everybody step up and play physical like that.”
It wasn’t the Jets’ prettiest game of the season. They came out strong but slowed down in the second after getting into penalty trouble and held on in the third to scoop up at least a point. It was their perseverance that proved to be the difference against a team playing its third game in four days.
“That was as tough a one as we’ve had, and we’ve played some really good teams lately,” said Blake Wheeler, who assisted on Kane’s winner. “They made everything tough on us.”
The workmanlike effort from Chris Mason between the pipes was symbolic of the evening. Also, the loudest cheer of the night — aside from Kane’s OT winner — was when the Jets killed off a two-man disadvantage in the second period that lasted nearly two minutes.
It was that kind of night.
“I like the way our team battles and plays,” Noel said during his post-game press conference, which was once again half game analysis and half stand-up comedy. “They fight for every inch of ice, and sometimes it’s not pretty. It’s not easy. But they battle. And that’s good.”
So Kane wasn’t mad; he was simply motivated. He did get upset, however, when Johnson plastered 5-foot-9 Tim Stapleton in the slot. Kane immediately dropped the mitts and jumped Johnson.
“Any time a hit like that happens, a guy’s in a vulnerable position,” Kane said. “I didn’t think the puck was there when he got hit. Guys are going to stick up for each other, and I’m no different.”
In other words, scratch that plan to cut off Kane. He’ll do fine without it.