The Winnipeg Jets managed to do the remarkable Tuesday – hand the mighty Boston Bruins their first regulation loss since before Halloween. And the Jets have their goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, to thank for the 2-1 victory.
Pavelec made 39 saves, got an assist on one goal and made so many outstanding saves the crowd nearly ran out of breath cheering.
"I felt great in the net," Pavelec said afterward. "They didn't have much scoring chances and we kept them a little bit outside on the boards. And the guys let me see the puck."
He laughed when told the assist was just the second of his NHL career. "I got one already? So it's the second. So that's huge."
The stage had been perfectly set for the Jets. The Bruins arrived in Winnipeg at 2 a.m. Tuesday after beating Pittsburgh 3-1 the night before and they were playing their third game in four nights. The Jets hadn't played since Saturday, when they beat New Jersey 4-2, and they'd been home for more than a week. And the Jets had the backing of a rowdier-than-usual crowd at the MTS Centre, who booed each Bruin individually throughout the game.
The Bruins were also without two big guns – goalie Tim Thomas, who had played the night before, and star forward Tyler Seguin, who had to sit out the game as punishment for sleeping in and missing a team meeting.
"Hopefully it's a learning thing," Boston coach Claude Julien said referring to his decision to bench Seguin, the club's leading scorer with 13 goals and 12 assists. "He is a good player and he's a good individual that is going to bounce back and play the next game."
Seguin said he had set his alarm on Eastern time, forgetting that Winnipeg was one hour ahead. "I know it was a mistake, and I know it wasn't professional and it's going to have consequences," he said.
The Jets took full advantage of all their opportunities, scoring with less than two minutes to go in the first period on a long wrist shot by Andrew Ladd that beat Bruin goalie Tuukka Rask above his right shoulder. The goal came despite some fierce pressure and hard checking by the Bruins, who at first didn't look like a team on the end of a back-to-back.
Pavelec, the Jets' workhorse goalie, did everything and more to keep his team ahead. He made a series of outstanding saves, particularly during two Boston power plays in the second period when shots rained down on the Jets' goal.
"I don't know what more you can say? He's playing pretty solid," Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said after the game. "Pavelec was outstanding when he had to be outstanding."
The Bruins then started to look careless. Zdeno Chara gave up the puck right in front of Rask that gave Jet forward Carl Klingberg a breakaway, which he barely missed. Soon Boston passes were going astray and giveaways were piling up.
But this was the Boston Bruins. The Stanley Cup champions. The team that had accumulated 29 of a possible 30 points in its past 15 games, the only loss coming in a shootout against Detroit. By the third period the Bruins finally started to show their stuff.
Shawn Thornton tied the game early in the third on a scramble in front of Pavelec. It looked as though Boston would start to roll. But the Jets did not give in.
Seconds after the Jets' tough defenceman, Mark Stuart, had been driven hard into the boards by Boston's David Krejci, prompting a round of pushing and shoving, Bryan Little won a faceoff in Winnipeg's end, raced down the ice with Ladd and blasted a hard high shot past Rask to give the Jets a 2-1 lead.
"It was just a two on one. I was looking to pass when I had it but [the Boston defender]kind of took it away. So I just shot it," Little said afterward. The win "gives us some confidence. Boston has been playing unbelievably lately. It seems like they can't lose. It was a good game for us."
With the crowd roaring, the Jets began to pour it on. Evander Kane missed an open net, a Jet power play had Rask scrambling and the Bruins suddenly looked ordinary. The crowd kept up chanting and cheering.
"That was probably the loudest I've heard yet," said Ladd. "So it was a fun game to be a part of. They seemed to be right in it from the drop of the puck and every aspect.
Noel said the crowd made a big difference.
"It's really something to see in this building," he said. "People really embrace the games. It's just unbelievable. It's like they want to be on the bench. It's like they are on the bench. They are just right into it."
He also had praise for centre Jim Slater who won several faceoffs for the Jets late in the game. Overall, Slater won 15 of 22 faceoffs. "You can t put enough emphasis on the value of a centreman winning the faceoffs late in the game. It was huge for us," said Noel.
Aside from faceoffs, the Jets also managed to stay relatively clear of the penalty box, something they have not done this season. The team has given up 126 power plays this year, tied with Anaheim for the most in the league. But on Tuesday they gave up just three and killed them all.
"We played a good game. I thought it was a really solid game for us," Noel said. "It was really pretty impressive to watch us play."
Julien tried to put the loss in perspective for his team. "To be honest with you, you get used to winning," he said afterward. "I know the players in there hated it, and so did I, as did the coaching staff. Hopefully we hate it enough that we want to bounce back in the next game and win another one."
The Jets are now 12-11-4 with 28 points, putting them second in the Southeast Division and close to a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
"We're not going to be separating our shoulders patting ourselves on the back from this one," Noel said. "We played a good game against a good opponent...I'm just happy the way were playing and I want to just keep it going. Tomorrow's another work day. So can you tell the players, get ready for work tomorrow don't enjoy the win too much?"