The Winnipeg Jets proved a lot to themselves on Friday. They not only beat the Boston Bruins 4-2 at the MTS Centre, they also finally established that they can actually win the second game of a back to back.
That last part had been a burden all season. Coming in to Friday, the Jets were 0-9 in the latter half of back to back and it didn't look like things would be changing. The Jets had been in St. Paul Thursday night beating Minnesota 4-3 in a shoot out. The Bruins, meanwhile, were resting in Winnipeg, having beaten Montreal 4-3 in a shoot out on Wednesday.
The back to back losing streak had become so tiresome to Jets coach Claude Noel that before the game he replied to question about it by saying: "How many times would you like me to deal with that situation? ..Well we'd like to change that. That's about all I've got to say."
He won't have to say anything more about it.
The Jets not only took care of Boston 24 hours after beating Minnesota, they also moved within two points of Toronto for the last playoff position in the Eastern Conference. And with seven more home game coming up, Winnipeg is poised to make a decent charge for the playoffs.
There were other good signs for Winnipeg on Friday. The team lost the lead twice during the game but still managed to win. And they did it against a tight-checking Boston team that gave little ground, particularly in the first period when Winnipeg could only muster four shots on goal.
"I thought we played with a lot of heart," Noel said after the game. "It was nice to see us play that way." Then he added with some emphasis: "In back to back games."
At first it looked like Boston's tight checking style would win over. The Bruins not only held the Jets in check in the first period, they also levelled 13 shots at Jets' goalie Ondrej Pavelec. But Boston couldn't score, giving Winnipeg a slight opening
The Jets took advantage early in the second when Alexander Burmistrov fired a long wrist shot that beat Tuukka Rask high. Boston came back five minutes later with a carbon copy goal as Jordan Caron fired similar shot that beat Pavelec in the same place.
The Bruins had a chance to go ahead when Evander Kane took an elbowing penalty later in the second period. But the Bruin power play looked disorganized and the penalty kill invigorated the Jets. Within minuets of Kane returning to the ice, Blake Wheeler broke free in front of Rask and snapped a quick shot that beat the Bruin goalkeeper. That gave the Jets the lead heading into the third.
It looked once again like Winnipeg would fold. Less than a minute into the final period, Dustin Byfuglien broke his stick attempting a long shot from the point. That sent the Bruins down the ice and David Krejci scored on a short shot from in front of the Winnipeg goal.
"The key was we didn't get demoralized," Noel said.
Indeed, Winnipeg came back and once again got fired up after killing off a penalty. This time Bryan Little scored putting the Jets back in front. He extended the lead to 4-2 with a second goal barely two minutes later.
Boston came close to pulling within one when Patrice Bergeron took a pass right in front of Pavelec and fired a quick shot. But the Jet goalie snatched the puck out of the air and finished the game with 31 saves.
"If you don't make the save there, it's a different game," Noel said. "Things get tighter pressure mounts... When you are going to win games like this you are going to have to get timely goals and timely saves and I think that's what we got."
Bruins coach Claude Julien put the blame for the loss on all his players. "Everybody has to be better. The goaltender is the who gets criticized," he said afterward.
The Bruins are now 5-6-0 in their last 11 games and are showing some uncharacteristic inconsistency. "It's something that is not our style usually, but lately it has been a lot," Rask said after the game.
"It's not even close to the effort that we need right now," added Bergeron. "We're working hard, but we're not working smart. It hurts us so much when we get away from our game and away from our system...The bottom line is that we got to find a way. We need some answers and we've got to get back to our game."
As for the Jets, they take on Colorado Sunday at the MTS Centre with some new found confidence.
"Hopefully it's one of those confident boosting games where we can get on a roll now," Little said referring to the win over Boston. "It seems like we win a couple and lose a few lately and we can't really do that any more. We have to get points and hopefully this is kind of the start of this home stand where we can put a couple of games together."
Added Wheeler: "It's getting to be crunch time and I think everyone can kind of feel that we are on the cusp of something pretty good here."
The final words of the night went to Noel who was asked if the win finally ended all the talk about back to backs. He nodded and replied: "And I'm sorry to say that I won't have to answer that question again. Thank you very much."