Jets' firewagon follies

Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds celebrates a goal against the Jets at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg,...

Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds celebrates a goal against the Jets at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Feb. 21, 2012. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:43 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel went into Tuesday night’s game against the Flyers saying his team couldn’t win if it played Philly-style, firewagon hockey.

Turned out he was bang-on.

The Jets did their damnedest to prove Noel wrong in a thriller that provided the best and worst of this confounding team, goalie Ondrej Pavelec representing the former, the Jets defensive play the latter — and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien a bit of both.

Eventually, though, the home team got exactly what it deserved, coughing up a 5-4 overtime result that had all the flavour you could want in a big-league hockey game, even if it did leave a bad taste in the mouths of the locals.

“You think the players and the coaches plan to have games like that? It never happens,” Noel said. “I’ve got a real unhappy group in there. They’re really disappointed. There’ll be a lot of guys looking in the mirror at a lot of different things.”

Byfuglien will see a guy who still hasn’t learned when to be Paul Coffey and when not to be. A guy who was too soft with his check on Wayne Simmonds, allowing the Flyer to force overtime with 10 seconds left in regulation, and who could have been the goat in overtime, too, if Philadelphia hadn’t messed up yet another two-on-one.

If the Jets left Pavelec hung out to dry in Pittsburgh 10 days ago, they allowed the Flyers to take the sticks to him and beat him like a dusty rug on this night.

“Pavelec was by far the best player on the ice,” Noel said. “We might not even have got a point if it wasn’t for him. It was a game where we probably could have got two. Did we deserve two? I’ll let you guys be the judge of that.”

Not a chance. Not when they were outshot more than two-to-one (55-26). Not when Philly’s Ilya Bryzgalov was so shaky, the Flyers might have actually improved their goaltending when they pulled him with a minute and a half to go in regulation.

You didn’t even have to hit the net to get one past Bryzgalov, as Evander Kane found out.

Bryzgalov’s gloved wave at the puck wasn’t nearly as sharp as his sense of humour after the game, when he thanked Jets fans for all the, ahem, support.

“It was nice to hear cheering, ‘Ilya! Ilya!’ — I never heard it before, anywhere,” Philadelphia’s latest heartbreaker said. “When 15,000 people support you, it’s very impressive. I want to thank the fans for the nice hospitality.”

Hey, no problem, Bryz. Next time, check out our parks.

You’re tempted to say the Jets were far too hospitable, too. But that would be making a false assumption: that they should hang in the same neighbourhood as the Flyers.

Philly has more talent on two lines than the Jets have in their dreams. That’s not a knock, just a fact.

“They were hard to deal with all night,” Noel said. “We didn’t defend as well, but it’s a good team. You’ve got to give them some credit.”

Give the Jets some, too.

The power play that used to be dreadful is on fire.

Falling behind doesn’t automatically demoralize them the way it used to.

And they’re suddenly scoring goals like it’s practice.

“Our guys care about winning,” Noel concluded. “We try to find ways to win games. This was not an easy game to win. And we tried to find it... we were almost in it, and then it came up and just kicked us.”

No time to stay home and nurse the nether-regions, though.

It’s games every other day, now, that playoff line still tantalizingly close, first place in the Division Nobody Wants even closer.

Up next, Tampa, which might not be Philly. But I’d still leave the firewagon at home.

It provides a hell of a ride, to be sure.

It’s just not this team’s style.


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