Head coach Claude Noel wanted to see his Winnipeg Jets to build on what was widely considered their best home-ice effort of the season and that’s exactly what happened on Thursday night as they earned a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers before a boisterous crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre.
Much like they were on Tuesday when the Jets earned a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the crowd was into it early as the Jets suddenly-sizzling power play struck at 1:58 on a rebound goal from Nik Antropov, who deposited the loose puck after proving the screen on Dustin Byfuglien’s point shot. For those of you keeping score at home, Kyle Wellwood drew the second assist and delivered a nice saucer pass to get the puck into the shooting lane for Byfuglien.
“Write this down: we’ve scored a power play goal in every game the last two games and we’ve won, so we won the special teams game there. Make sure you make a note of that, you guys have been grilling us forever,” said Noel. “I thought it was a hard fought game, I thought that both teams battled hard. I thought we wore their defencemen down as the game went on. I thought we were physical in the game, and we had a lot of emotion in the game.”
As is so often the case, Byfuglien made sure his heavy shot got through traffic.
“The Rangers are good at blocking shots. It’s just a matter of getting pucks to the net and guys being in front of the goalie and getting sticks on it,” Byfuglien said during his post-game meeting with reporters. “It’s big. Which ever way you look at it, it’s a big two points for us. We’ve got to build off it, and take the bad things, too, and keep moving forward.”
At 11:13 of the first period, Byfuglien was nailed for hooking Rangers forward Marian Gaborik on a breakaway and a penalty shot was awarded.
Gaborik breezed in, slowed down and lost control of the puck for a brief second as he tried to deke, allowing Pavelec to utilize a poke-check to thwart the Rangers winger.
The Rangers evened the score 1:11 into the second on a nifty redirection from captain Ryan Callahan (Derek Stepan provided the shot from the left point).
But the Jets pushed back and caught a break when Byfuglien’s shot from the point banked in off the shoulder of winger Antti Miettinen, who scored his first goal of the season.
“It’s always a good feeling when you score a goal,” said Miettinen. “They will come if I’m able to play my game. It’s great to see that we have everybody contributing right now. It’s a good sign.”
You knew the Rangers were going to push back in the third period, but the Jets were up for the challenge and came up with a solid defensive effort, while staying on their toes.
The Jets had several chances to build on their lead, with two chances in particular standing out: Bryan Little fed Andrew Ladd in the slot and his shot rattled off the crossbar, then Evander Kane was stoned on a breakaway by Henrik Lundqvist.
But with time winding down, Blake Wheeler found Ladd in the open and the Jets captain found the open net for his team-leading 14th goal of the campaign.
“I thought we created our chances by working hard and making the other team turnover the puck so credit for the forwards on the forecheck,” said Jets D-man Zach Bogosian. “They did a great job and they make it easy on the defence back there if they’re stopping pucks down there.”
Bogosian and partner Ron Hainsey did a solid job of shutting down Rick Nash and Brad Richards.
“We did pretty well, we gave them one chance in the second that we would have liked to have back, but other than that, we really didn’t give them a whole lot,” said Hainsey. “If you can keep their top players off the sheet, you’ll have a good opportunity to win the game. That’s the idea.”
With the win, the Jets improved to 14-11-2 and moved two points ahead of the Rangers (who hold a game in hand) to move into sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Jets are also within one point of the Carolina Hurricanes (who hold down the third seed but also have a game in hand on the Jets) for top spot in the Southeast Division, the 6th-place New Jersey Devils and the 7th place Maple Leafs, who serve as their opponent on Saturday night.
Winnipeg is only two points back of the 5th-place Ottawa Senators, who provide the opposition on Sunday.
Obviously, it’s a big weekend ahead for the Jets as they continue to try and push to stay above the playoff line.
“Now we have to build from here,” said Ladd. “The next one’s obviously another huge game, and we have to come out with the same game plan and intensity we’ve had these last two games.”
Alex Burmistrov was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game, but Patrice Cormier didn’t really get much of a chance to have an impact during his season debut with the Jets, as he was limited to five shifts for 3:26 of ice time. Cormier, who was so good in the faceoff circle last season for the Jets, was 0-for-4 on Thursday but did manage one hit.
It will be interesting to see if Noel sticks with the same lineup against the Maple Leafs or puts Burmistrov back into the lineup for Cormier or someone else.
Noel is looking for Burmistrov to play more of a north-south game (instead of east-west) and it will be equally interesting to see if the Russian forward can adjust his game when he gets his next opportunity.
I’ve got a plane to catch to Toronto in the morning. Will check back in from The Big Smoke on Friday.
Realignment was a topic of conversation and I wrote about it for the paper and at www.winnipegsun.com. I’ll weigh in with a few more thoughts tomorrow.
Don’t miss our weekly live chat on Friday afternoon at 2 pm CT.