Jets' confidence growing

Winnipeg Jets right winger Chris Thorburn (r) congratulates goalie Ondrej Pavelec after their 4-1...

Winnipeg Jets right winger Chris Thorburn (r) congratulates goalie Ondrej Pavelec after their 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in NHL hockey in Winnipeg on November 17, 2011. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI AGENCY)

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:41 AM ET

On a night Pat Sajak was in the house, the fortunes of the Winnipeg Jets took a decided turn in the right direction.

The longtime TV game-show host was one of 15,004 who watched the Jets put together their first real two-game win streak of the season, Thursday night.

And it didn’t come against your run-of-the-mill NHL competition.

Three days after manhandling Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2, the Jets throttled Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, 4-1.

That’s back-to-back romps over Southeast Division opponents, and the rewards were instant: for the first time this season, the Jets (7-9-3) are out of last place.

“Our guys played extremely well, with a lot of heart and a lot of passion,” head coach Claude Noel said. “It was nice to watch us play back-to-back games like this. It’d be hard to pick a bad player out there for us.”

It was a lively night, fans serenading Sajak with “Wheel-of-Fortune” chants and mocking Ovechkin with cries of “Ohvie-Ohvie” in his first visit to the ’Peg.

It was supposed to be a tough week for the Jets, three visits by NHL strongholds in which the wobbling double-blue would be lucky to pick up a couple of points.

Instead, the former Atlanta Thrashers took a small, but sure, step toward shedding their inglorious past, and now only the Philadelphia Flyers stand in the way of the natural home stand hat trick.

“I don’t think a culture gets built in two games,” Noel said. “But it helps.”

In a second period that produced a bit of everything, the Jets out hustled and out hit the Caps, outscored them 3-0, killed off a lengthy five-on-three and popped a pair of power-play goals of their own, including Blake Wheeler’s monkey-shedding first in 19 games.

“You can’t really describe it,” Wheeler said of the weight off his back. “It’s the longest drought of my career by a pretty good amount. You kind of forget what it feels like when the puck goes in the net.”

For the second consecutive game, those shaky, scrambly stretches the Jets were becoming infamous for lasted mere seconds instead of entire periods.

I don’t know what confidence looks like from 80 feet away, but I’m pretty sure I saw it growing some muscle from up in the press box.

The tightness was gone, the plays looser, the thinking more free.

If the Jets haven’t found themselves these last two games, they’ve at least caught a glimpse of what they’d like to be.

“Last game we kind of learned what our team looks like when we play a 60-minute game,” Wheeler said. “We got a lot of confidence out of that. The first little bit of this game we were kind of feeling it out, trading punches.”

When they started landing, the Jets smelled blood.

“We saw we can play with these guys,” continued Wheeler. “Once we got a couple of goals and got ahead of them, we just put our foot on the gas.”

On the other side, the struggling Caps look like they’re not sure who they want to be.

Busting out of the gate with seven straight wins had everyone thinking they meant business this season.

They’ve won three of 10, since.

And the Great Eight Debate rages on.

On this night, again, No. 8 was a very ordinary superstar.

Overshadowed by a team that doesn’t have anyone like him.

But didn’t need one. 


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