WINNIPEG - Relief might not be the right word.
Whatever the case may be, the Winnipeg Jets were feeling a great deal of joy after exiting from the bowels of the winless on Monday with a gutsy 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins before a capacity crowd of 15,004 at the MTS Centre.
“It’s a great feeling, especially after you’ve been struggling a little bit,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, whose club improved to 1-3 on the season. “Hopefully we can use this momentum the right way and get going in the right direction.”
The Jets fans were certainly appreciative of the effort, rising to their feet for the final minute to bring them home.
“Yeah, they’ve been waiting a long time for that one,” said Ladd. “It’s nice to be able to deliver (a win). They’ve been great since Day 1 we got here. It’s nice to give them a little something to cheer about.”
The reason they had plenty to cheer about is that the Jets got back to basics.
After being plagued by blatant turnovers that ended up in the back of their net in the first three games of the season — all losses — the Jets did all of the things required for them to be a playoff team.
Win races to loose pucks.
Come out on top in 1-on-1 battles.
Gets pucks deep, get shots on goal and crash the net in search of rebounds.
“Something we were talking about was bringing the compete level and battling all night,” said Jets forward Tanner Glass, who scored what ended up being the game-winning goal on a booming one-timer late in the first period. “In our previous three games, we didn’t have a consistent work ethic or battle level throughout.
“When you’re trusting and guys are making the easy plays, it’s easy. It’s always tough when you start a season 0-3. When you get the first one, it’s good to taste that as a team and know you can do it. It gives you confidence.”
Sure, the Jets also took advantage of some good fortune on the opening shift of the game as Penguins defenceman Zbynek Michalek fell down, allowing a 3-on-1 rush that saw Kyle Wellwood cap a nifty tick-tack-toe play from linemates Alex Burmistrov and Nik Antropov.
“Anytime in this league, somebody makes a mistake, you want to capitalize on it,” said Wellwood. “Certainly we weren’t trying to score in less than 10 seconds, but being able to capitalize brought the crowd to a new level and we were able to find a better game.”
Burmistrov made a smooth transition from centre to left wing and chipped in with a couple assists to lead the offensive charge.
“It means a lot for us,” said Burmistrov. “We lost three games in a row and there’s was lots of pressure on us. We proud to win our first game at home.”
Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec was another one of the stars of the show, finishing with 27 saves — many of the highlight-reel variety — to earn his first victory in eight games over the Penguins.
The only shot to beat him was a point shot that came as Penguins forward Matt Cooke bumped into Pavelec, though goalie interference wasn’t called.
“Pavelec was superb, he was outstanding,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “It’s hard to fault his game. He made some key saves in that game.”
And having a goaltender make those key saves is going to be a key for the Jets as they try to build on their first win during a two-game road trip through Ontario.