TAMPA - Sacrifices were made, shots were blocked, saves were made and penalties were killed.
Finally, after failing to hold a third-period lead and sometimes looking like they were hanging on for dear life, the Winnipeg Jets dug a little deeper and came up with another clutch victory.
This one was a 2-1 overtime triumph that was secured after Blake Wheeler faked his shot on the rush and found Kyle Wellwood all alone for what was basically an empty-netter at 3:14 of overtime.
“That’s a nice feeling ... to put it into an empty net was even better,” said Wellwood. “I don’t even know if I’ve ever had one (an overtime winner).”
Coming off a 2-1 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers to snap a three-game skid, the Jets were determined to follow it up with another strong effort on the road.
That’s exactly what they did.
“We weathered a couple of storms and managed to get two points,” said Jets winger Tanner Glass. “We’d rather not give them one, but at the same time, two points in our column is always good.”
One of those storm clouds came late in the third period when the Jets were forced to kill off a slashing minor to captain Andrew Ladd.
But the Jets would not falter, getting a critical shot block from Jim Slater, who was credited with four in the contest.
“We’ve had confidence in our kill all along,” said Glass, who blocked a shot of his own during a third-period barrage by the Lightning. “Guys are out there working hard, blocking shots and doing the things it takes to get kills.
“When that penalty does get called, we know we can kill it.”
A loss in this game could have been incredibly demoralizing, especially since the Jets found a way to get a goal from Wheeler with 15.2 seconds left in the second period that could have been a back-breaker for the Lightning.
However, Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom got caught flat-footed midway through the third and Lightning blue-liner Victor Hedman buried his shot on the 2-on-1 rush off the post and in to even the score at 10:34 of the third.
The Lightning made a few more pushes, but goalie Ondrej Pavelec stood tall once again and the Jets found a way to secure the extra point in extra time.
“It was a matter of keeping our feet moving and not (making) dumb plays and we got one by them,” said Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who played over 25 minutes in his return to the lineup and chipped in an assist on the overtime winner. “They might have hit a bit of momentum late in the third but it was still anyone’s game. We weren’t quitting and it showed at the end.”
So while it wasn’t exactly an offensive outburst for the Jets, they found a way to win in consecutive times for the first time since the three-game winning streak they put together at the end of December that included victories over the Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I’m not really too concerned with the scoring too much,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “We’re playing well, we’re playing hard. We’re managing the score, our effort is good. Can you keep it up? It’s about winning and we’re winning some games. That’s the good thing.”
Having to do it against a Florida Panthers team that currently occupies top spot in the Southeast Division only makes the challenge that much tougher.
The next test also includes another mental hurdle as the Jets try to snap an 0-8 funk when playing on consecutive nights.
We’ve been saying all along that the Jets absolutely need to win at least three of four games on this critical road swing to keep themselves in position in the ever-tightening Eastern Conference standings.
With two wins already in the piggy bank, they seem to be well on their way.