VANCOUVER - It was an intense, playoff-like game, with a playoff-like atmosphere created mostly by their own fans.
And the Winnipeg Jets played accordingly, giving the mighty Vancouver Canucks all they could handle, battling for every puck, charging hard to the net and doing whatever it took to find success.
In the end the Jets couldn’t get the job done, getting badly outshot by the Canucks, and ultimately falling 3-2.
It was a good sign that the Jets were not taking any satisfaction from what was a pretty strong effort despite the loss.
“You could say that it was a one-goal game and we had a chance to win it and that’s awesome, but there’s a certain way that we play that makes us a good team and tonight wasn’t that,” said Jets leading scorer Blake Wheeler.
“We’re way better than what we showed tonight. We can skate way better, we can make teams defend a lot harder and we just don’t really do that as much on the road as we do at home. That’s the big elephant in the room. At home, we fly around, the crowd’s roaring, we’re having fun and on the road, we don’t do the same thing.”
It was a result that cost the Jets a chance to move into a tie for first place in the Southeast Division after the Florida Panthers lost Thursday night and also dropped them into a tie for eighth in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Capitals, who won in overtime.
What’s most frustrating for the Jets was the fact they kept the Sedin twins completely in check, but were done in by players like defenceman Alex Edler, who scored on a soft shot from the blue-line, and checking centre Sami Pahlsson, who blasted the winner past Pavelec with just over five minutes left in the third.
That, combined with a shorthanded goal by Ryan Kesler, was enough to bring down the Jets, who played with all the necessary fire for such an important game, but couldn’t make that count. Vancouver simply got too many chances, outshooting the Jets 45-32, and got one more timely goal than the visitors could muster.
The Jets even held the lead in the third period when Wheeler used his speed and reach to get around a diving Alexander Edler and beat Canucks goalie Cory Schneider on the short side. Wheeler’s speed was a factor all night as he scored the goal and drew a couple of penalties.
But the lead was short-lived and in the end it was the Canucks fans, who were barely able to make more noise than the huge throng of Jets fans in the crowd, who had something to celebrate.
That group of Jets fans was impressively loud, announcing its presence at every opportunity with “Go Jets go” chants and loud ovations for the visitors. They were particularly noticeable when Kyle Wellwood scored on a rebound of an Evander Kane shot late in the second period to tie the game at 1-1 and when Wheeler gave the Jets the lead.
Though they certainly held their own against an ultra-tough opponent, the Jets could have been burned more badly had it not been for some stellar goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec and a couple of bullet shots off the iron by Kesler, who was the best player on the ice.
Pavelec finished with 42 saves, but likely would want at least two of the goals back, especially the long shot by Edler.
There were times when the game was far too wide open for Jets coach Claude Noel’s liking.
“We didn’t deserve to friggin win the game,” Noel said. “We were lacking our good solid play that we’ve been playing in the past. We’ve been a good, organized team and it just goes to show you that it’s a hard game to play for us every night.
“It certainly wasn’t our best game. Vancouver’s obviously got a really good team and we gave them a lot of scoring chances. It was a very sporadic game. Having said that we were 1-1 after 40 minutes and we had a chance to win the game after going up 2-1. I thought our will was there but we didn’t play to the level we were playing to before.”
The Jets played a style that hasn’t worked well when playing elite teams on the road, but it made for an exciting, entertaining game and the visitors did a good job of keeping it close.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much when it comes to the playoff race.
At this time of year, there are never any moral victories.
The Jets can certainly say they ran with one of the big dogs for 55 minutes and can feel good about their chances of being successful if they make the playoffs.
But that very task didn’t get any easier.