The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers renewed a 40-year old rivalry Monday that stretched all the way back to the glory days of the World Hockey Association. It was the only meeting of Winnipeg and Edmonton this season and if the NHL ever figures out how to realign its divisions, the league should think about putting these teams together.
The packed MTS Centre crowd made the most of the renewed hostilities, chanting, jeering and hollering throughout the game.
If all that history wasn't enough of a distraction, the game came a few hours after both teams made trades just before the NHL trade deadline. The Jets unloaded defenceman Johnny Oduya to Chicago for second and third round picks in 2013, while the Oilers sent defenceman Tom Gilbert to Minnesota for Nick Schultz, also a defenceman.
The Jets seemed preoccupied by everything Monday night, but not the Oilers. Edmonton won a convincing 5-3 victory thanks to a strong third period that resulted in four goals and left the Jets reeling.
The win doesn't mean much to Edmonton as far as the standings go since the Oilers have 54 points and are second-last in the Western Conference.
But the loss stalls Winnipeg at 68 points and keeps the team behind Florida, which has 70 points, for top position in the Southeast Division. The Panthers arrive in the MTS Centre Thursday for what will be a crucial divisional game.
The Jets also hung on to the eighth and final play off spot in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of Washington. But the Capitals and the Panthers have played three and four fewer games respectively than Winnipeg.
"Tonight was the worst loss of the year," Jets forward Kyle Wellwood said bluntly after the game. "The guys are pretty devastated."
Jets' coach Claude Noel wouldn't go that far, but he said his team looked sluggish and had no jump.
"We didn't play great, I think, from the goalie on out," Noel said. "We looked like we were emotionally drained, physically drained and we didn't have much energy."
The Oilers were far more attentive from the start. Winnipeg looked lost for much of the first period and only some remarkable saves by Ondrej Pavelec, particularly on a pair of shots by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, kept the Oilers from scoring. The Jets only managed seven shots on goal in the first, compared to 12 for Edmonton.
Winnipeg looked much better in the second period, outshooting Edmonton 10-4 and getting the first goal of the game when Wellwood scored on a power play. Edmonton defenceman Ryan Whitney tied the game a couple of minuets later with a long shot from the point on an Oiler power play. But the tie lasted just over a minute as Alexander Burmistrov took a cross-ice pass from Dustin Byfuglien and popped a shot past Oiler goalie Devan Dubnyk.
Heading into the third the Jets had a 2-1 lead but everything fell apart for Winnipeg quickly.
The Oilers got two goals in the first three minutes, by Ryan Jones and Lennart Petrell. As good as Pavelec looked in the first, he looked shaky on the second goal and didn't get any better from there.
Edmonton added two more goals, by Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, sealing the victory. The Jets' Nik Antropov scored a meaningless goal with less than two minutes to go to make the final result look more respectable.
"I just think our start of the third period, we came out and didn't take 'No' for an answer," said Hall who has 23 goals and also picked up an assist, his 25th. "These are games that we have to learn how to win. Not the 6-2 games or the 10-2 games that come easy to us. We have to learn to win the tight games. When we're down in the third period, we have to outplay the team the best we can."
Added Oilers coach Tom Renney: "I liked the way we handled the game in general."
Antropov said there was no excuse for the Jets to play so poorly in the third.
"Coming out in the third period leading 2-1 we should have just come out and scored a couple of more goals and come out really strong but we came out flat," he said. "I don't see any positives from this game."
The Jets have two days to figure out what went wrong and get ready for a clutch game against the Panthers at the MTS Centre Thursday. The good news for the Jets is that the team has generated eight out of a possible ten points during this eight-game home stand, with two games at the MTS Centre still to come [Florida Thursday and Buffalo Monday] The bad new is that the club has only beaten Florida once this year and lost three times, including once in a shoot out.