Jets great too late

Jets defenceman Mark Stuart (left), defenceman Tobias Enstrom (centre) and forward Andrew Ladd...

Jets defenceman Mark Stuart (left), defenceman Tobias Enstrom (centre) and forward Andrew Ladd celebrate a goal against the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., April 3, 2012. (RHONA WISE/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 PM ET

WINNIPEG - So it looks like the Winnipeg Jets have finally figured out how to win away from the friendly confines.

Now that it doesn’t matter.

Now that every point they get is simply window dressing on a house that’s been evacuated and boarded up for the better part of two weeks.

The Jets hopped a southbound plane late last week and emerged wearing their Superman costumes, picking up five of a possible six points in Carolina and Florida.

Thursday night they roll onto Long Island, no doubt ready to dispose of the Islanders in similar, heart-stopping fashion — all three games on this trip have gone into overtime, including Tuesday’s stirring comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the division-leading Panthers.

Where was all this passion when the Jets were losing four of their previous five road games, a stretch that effectively ended all hope of making the playoffs?

Where, for that matter, has it been all season?

With the home-ice advantage the Jets have enjoyed, it wouldn’t have taken much on the road to produce a post-season berth. Not even .500 hockey would have done it.

Instead, the Jets managed a paltry dozen victories in 37 tries, going into The Trip That Doesn’t Matter.

And suddenly, safely out of playoff contention, they pick up points in three straight road games, something they haven’t done since around Halloween.

Pat the boys on the back all you want for giving it the old college try this week, with little to play for other than individual bonuses (we’re told Evander Kane has an extra $250,000 to throw around after hitting 30 goals).

Oh, there’s good, old-fashioned pride on the line, too, of course.

And this is where things get a little tricky.

If the Jets keep this up and end the season on a mini-roll, team brass will have to determine whether this is a case of character rising to the surface, or players performing simply because the pressure’s off.

I’m reminded of a story Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger told about the day he first saw Rick Rypien.

Heisinger showed up at a Regina Pats practice the morning after the Pats had been demolished, 7-2, by the Brandon Wheat Kings, and saw this fearless, skinny kid throwing his body in front of shots.

Rypien had a natural, competitive fire that raged whether it was a playoff game or a practice.

His struggle with mental illness aside — it would eventually lead to his death last summer — Rypien was the kind of person pro hockey teams need to win.

So are the resurgent Jets, who’ve been wearing a Rypien-inspired helmet decal all season, being led by similar character?

Or is this a case of performing best when nothing’s on the line?

We’ve all seen players who seem to get half their goals in garbage time, i.e. the last goal in a rout.

There are also those with a knack for scoring first goals, game-tying goals and game-winners, those who seem to come through when it’s crunch time.

The Jets didn’t come through when the pressure was at its highest.

There are people who get paid good money to figure out why, and to separate the character Jets from the passenger Jets.

Of course, these are the same people who put this fleet together in the first place, who inherited an 80-point team from Atlanta and improved it by three points, and counting.

All that home-ice advantage, and little to show for it.

The Jets have two more games, against teams in similar predicaments, to add to their modest total.

And a long summer to ponder exactly what it means.


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