WINNIPEG - There’s no doubt the Winnipeg Jets found the push-back that was noticeably absent earlier this week.
This time, the Jets got an inspired performance while playing on consecutive days.
For the first time in 10 tries this season they found a way to exorcise one of their annoying demons, skating away with a 4-2 triumph over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Friday night before an appreciative crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre.
It was a great way to open an eight-game homestand that could very well determine whether or not they can stay in the playoff race.
Many were wondering how the Jets would respond to an emotional 4-3 shootout victory on the road Thursday over the Minnesota Wild and the answer was resounding, as the home side dug deep and found a way to keep pace in the tightening Eastern Conference race.
Was this a statement game for the Jets?
“You don’t want to use that word too recklessly because if we come and lay an egg on Sunday, then it doesn’t really mean much,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “But we showed a lot about what we have in the locker room. We knew what we have, but sometimes it gets questioned outside, that we’re not resilient or we can’t win these back-to-back games.
“Hopefully, we can ride this momentum and keep going. It’s getting to be crunch time and everyone can feel we’re on the cusp of something really good here.”
After a scoreless first where the Jets tried to find their legs, goals from Alex Burmistrov and Wheeler gave them a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
But the Bruins struck in the opening minute of the third period on a goal by David Krejci to even the score.
The Jets had been down this road several times — including their last meeting against the Bruins on Jan. 10 in Boston, when they gave up the tying goal eight seconds into the third before getting overwhelmed — but this time, they didn’t crumble under pressure.
Wheeler was the catalyst and Bryan Little was the triggerman on both even-strength goals, which came 124 seconds apart.
“We did a really good job of sticking with it and everyone on the bench knew we could come back — they scored the goal but it was really early and we knew we had lots of time,” said Little, whose 16 goals leaves him tied for second on the team in goals with linemate Andrew Ladd. “It seemed like we found an extra gear, especially after we got that third goal. It seemed like that kind of gave us that extra momentum to carry on through the rest of the game. Hopefully, this is the start of the homestand and we can put a couple of games together.”
The evening would not have been complete without another top-shelf performance by goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who helped stem the tide for his team by turning aside all 13 shots he faced in the opening period as the Jets were out-shot dramatically.
Pavelec’s best save of the night came with just under 13 minutes left in the third period, when he flashed the leather and made a big glove to rob Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron.
“That was a huge moment,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “If you’re going to win games like this, you’re going to need timely goals and timely saves. That’s what we got.”
The joy level was clearly high, but Jets’ players and their head coach weren’t going overboard congratulating themselves following the victory.
After all, there are still seven games left on this pivotal homestand and by our calculations, the Jets are going to need to win five of the next seven to improve their position.
However, the only thing the Jets are worried about right now is finding a way to extend the winning streak to three against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night.
You know, singular focus.
WINNIPEG JETS 4 (28-26-6)
BOSTON BRUINS 2 (35-19-2)
1. Winnipeg RW Blake Wheeler ˜ He had a goal and two assists ˜ one of the helpers was a glorious feed ˜ he moved his feet, and he was physical. Other than that, he was terrible.
2. Winnipeg C Bryan Little ˜ The centre was flying early on, which was just what the doctor ordered, and then he scored twice.
3. Winnipeg G Ondrej Pavelec ˜ The Jets MVP stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first period, which was key, and then made a couple of beauties the rest of the way.
The Jets finally, finally, finally won the second half of a back-to-back, and they did it against the defending Stanley Cup champs, no less. Not a bad way to kick off an eight-game home stand, but the winning has to continue.
B FORWARDS: They didn‚t generate a ton of shots, but they capitalized on most of their scoring chances and were led by the top line, which is the way it should be.
B DEFENCE: The big Bruins forwards gave the Jets blue-liners trouble, which wasn‚t unexpected, but the Bs didn‚t have too many opportunities in front of the net.
A GOALTENDING: Ondrej Pavelec showed, once again, that he is the straw that stirs the drink for the Jets. He won his 21st game of the season, and a couple of his 31 saves were simply superb.
The Jets continue their eight-game home stand on Sunday night against the Colorado Avalanche. Game time is 7:30 p.m.