Jets pulse grows a bit stronger with resounding win over Stars

- March 17th, 2014

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN CHICAGO AND ST. LOUIS — The Winnipeg Jets gave themselves a glimmer of hope on Sunday night, earning a decisive 7-2 victory over the Dallas Stars, prompting the capacity crowd to get off their feet and provide a standing ovation.

There had been some unrest among the Jets’ fan base in recent times, as the club lost five consecutive games on home ice and six games (0-3-3) overall.

But none of that seemed to matter as the Jets got an impressive performance from many of their big guns as they pulled within four points of the Stars (who hold two games in hand), with 13 games left to play in the regular season (for Winnipeg).

Blake Wheeler was the offensive catalyst for the Jets, chipping in with four assists in the contest.

He also captured the mood of what was accomplished and what’s ahead.

“We’re a little bit too far back to have statement games. It was good step for us, a good start to hopefully something good here. We’ve got to rally and string a bunch together now,” said Wheeler.

He used his blazing speed to create an excellent scoring chance but was stopped by former Boston Bruins’ teammate Tim Thomas on the backhand attempt, however he retrieved the loose puck and found Toby Enstrom in the slot.

Enstrom admitted the Jets seemed a bit uneasy during the opening period before settling down and pulling away.

“We knew how important this game was for us, so we came out in the first hesitating a little bit, a little bit shaky, and made some bad decisions with the puck. But everybody loosened up and we came out hard in the second and showed how good we are as a team,” said Enstrom, who had a three-point night.

Wheeler also found Olli Jokinen all alone in front just 27 seconds into the second period for the goal that made it 4-2 for the Jets and led to an early exit for Thomas.

Jokinen showed great patience on the goal, showing multiple head fakes before finally putting the puck into the net.

“It’s been a while. That was a good forecheck. All three guys did it right and it was a good reload by (Wheeler),” said Jokinen, who had a goal and two assists for his second three-point game of the season. “Nice pass. I didn’t even have to yell to pass. He saw me and there was a lot of time. Knowing Timmy (Thomas), he battles. I don’t think that even he realized I had so much time.”

Dustin Byfuglien was a force once again, banging home a rebound, blasting home a shot from the point for a power-play marker and adding an assist before exiting the game for what the Jets called precautionary reasons with roughly 10 minutes left in the third period.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said after the game that Byfuglien would not miss any time because of the injury.

Thanks in part to the score, the Jets were able to play the fourth line of Patrice Cormier, Matt Halischuk and Anthony Peluso a little more and the benefit of that could be evident Monday as the Jets face a back-to-back games situation.

Cormier actually earned an assist on Enstrom’s goal, making a nice pass to spring Wheeler free. It was his first point in three seasons with the Jets.

It was a bit of a rocky start for goalie Al Montoya, who made the initially save on a point shot from Alex Goligoski, but the puck squirted out when he was falling to the ice, allowing Alex Chiasson to poke it home. Thirty-seven seconds later, Tyler Seguin buried a slick pass from Valeri Nichushkin and the Stars were up 2-1.

But Montoya settled down and finished with 25 saves to earn his 11th win of the season.

“Anytime Al has played, he’s been good. Rock solid. He’s been good all year. It wasn’t surprising for us the way he played. He’s there for us every day. He works hard. Besides being a tough guy in this league, that’s the second toughest job, being a backup goalie,” said Jokinen. “I’ve got a ton of respect for those guys. They work every day, they work hard and every time they get a chance to play, they want to play well and battle because they want to keep that net, keep playing. Every game for a backup game is a huge game, a statement game. He’s been outstanding for us this year.”

Jets winger Evander Kane also ended his 11-game scoring slump with a nifty backhand to the t0p shelf on a breakaway.

“It was good to get a goal and put the game away,” said Kane, who has 16 goals on the season. “For sure, I enjoy scoring goals and it’s definitely one of the parts of the game I enjoy. When you’re not doing that it can be tough. But it was a good game for a lot of guys to break loose a little bit and feel good about their game. We’re going to need a lot more of that (Monday) night.”

Ah yes, Monday night, where the Jets reward for their hard work is a date with the St. Louis Blues, who lead the NHL with 99 points and boast a 19-0-2 record against Central Division opponents this season.

“We’ve got ourselves back into the race now,” said Kane, when asked about the quick turnaround and the challenges associated with it. “The energy comes from your mind. It’s all mental. We’ve got an opportunity to go into St. Louis and and earn two points and that’s going to be our plan.”

The Jets are actually one of only two teams in the Central to beat the Blues (in a shootout). The Stars beat the Blues in OT last week, that’s the only other extra time loss within the division this season. Winnipeg lost to St. Louis in a shootout in the final game before the Olympic break, so they’ve been involved in some tight games this season.

“There’s a reason that they have more points than anybody in the conference. Like I said, it’s the system and how they’ve stuck to it, game in and game out,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “Against teams like that, if you keep it simple and try not to give them anything off your mistakes and turnovers, you can give yourself a chance to win. But if you start trying to create and do a little too much and get away from that simple game, that’s when you can get into trouble.”

Both of those contests came before the Blues acquired goalie Ryan Miller and super-pest Steve Ott in what could turn out the be the most important deadline deal.

“I don’t think bringing in those guys will change the way they have played. Obviously, you bring in a pretty elite goaltender but the way you score on them is by getting pucks and bodies to the net and trying to create second opportunities. It doesn’t really change much from our standpoint,” said Ladd.

The Blues will be without skilled forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who is likely to miss the rest of the regular season with a hand injury. T.J. Oshie is also questionable for tonight’s game, as Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch reported that he’s at the hospital awaiting the birth of a child. (UPDATE: Oshie won’t play after the birth of his child).

I’ll give the last word on tonight’s tilt to Montoya, who will be back between the pipes Monday as Ondrej Pavelec continues to recover from a lower-body injury he sustained late in the first period of Friday’s 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

“We’re going to have to go in there and play that blue-collar game,” said Montoya.

Just a friendly reminder that I’ll be back for the In the Box segment with Dennis Beyak tonight as part of the TSN Jets pre-game show. Should be on between 6:50 and 7 p.m.

The Jets flew to St. Louis shortly after Sunday’s game but didn’t skate this morning, so there could be a few minor alterations, but here’s how I expect both teams to start on Monday:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Evander Kane-Eric O’Dell-Devin Setoguchi
Dustin Byfuglien-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler
Matt Halischuk-Patrice Cormier-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Keaton Ellerby

Al Montoya (Michael Hutchinson)

Blues

Jaden Schwartz-Alex Steen-David Backes
Patrick Berglund-Vladimir Sobotka-Dmitry Jaskin
Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Steve Ott
Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Boumeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Roman Polak

Ryan Miller (Brian Elliott)

 

 

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