Renewal of hope for Jets
Feeling good after overtime win, but big bad Bruins await
Ted Wyman, QMI Agency
|Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth (1) keeps an eye on the puck with Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey (L) during their game in Buffalo on January 7, 2012. (REUTERS/Doug Benz)
BOSTON - Feeling better about themselves for the first time in 2012, the Winnipeg Jets now have a chance to make a statement to the Eastern Conference.
Up next for the Jets are the defending champion Boston Bruins, who have been playing great hockey again this season and are the gold standard for teams in the east.
The Jets got a big confidence boost when they beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in overtime Saturday night after opening the new year with back-to-back humiliating losses in Montreal and Toronto.
“That was waaaaaay better than losing,” defenceman Ron Hainsey shouted out in the jubilant Jets dressing room after the game.
Way better than heading in to Boston on a three-game losing streak as well.
“We didn’t want to continue down the same slide we were going down,” said Jets leading scorer Evander Kane.
The Jets have played well against the Bruins this season and a win in Boston would give them a .500 record on this road trip and show the rest of the league they can play well away from the friendly confines of MTS Centre.
It would also be a good indication that the Jets are true contenders for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“They’re the defending champs but every year I’ve been in the league we’ve played well against them,” Kane said. “Last year we won the season series, the year before that we tied and we’re 1-1 against them this year. We seem to play well against the elite teams and rise to the challenges.”
The Jets were not looking much like a playoff team in Toronto or Montreal. They didn’t skate or check the way they did during a great month of December.
But every team has off-nights and the Jets rebounded with a good team game in Buffalo, which was the kind of response coach Claude Noel needed to see.
“At least we’re back to feeling good about ourselves,” Noel said.
“The Bruins are a tough team to play. You’ve got to be ready to play 60 minutes and check with them. You’ve got to be patient. We’ve played them fairly good this year and we’re going to have to do the same. It’s a good test for us, we’ve answered the bell when we’ve had to against the heavy opponents.”
That certainly includes Winnipeg’s 2-1 win over the Bruins in early December at MTS Centre. Wins against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Florida would support that theory.
Losses to playoff bubble teams like Toronto and Montreal were not helpful by any means, but were not as damaging as they may have seemed at the time.
The Jets hit the midway point of the season when they played their 41st game on Saturday night and if the first half is any indication, playoffs are a real possibility.
“We’re in a dogfight and we’re over .500 so there’s some things we’re doing good,” Noel said. “We’re happy to be where we are, but we’re not sitting here being satisfied. Halfway point of the season, we’re OK. We’re in the hunt and that’s what we need to be.”
It has certainly been a promising first half as far as fans, who didn’t even have a team to cheer for at this time last season, are concerned.
They have an entertaining team that is usually competitive — Toronto and Montreal notwithstanding — and it looks like their team is going to be in a 41-game playoff race from here on in.
Having a team is nice. When all the games matter, it’s even better.