All-out effort nets convincing win

By: Adam Wazny | Wednesday, March 13

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Ondrej Pavelec flashes a glove, stopping Toronto Maple Leafs' Michael Kostka during the first period of their game on March 12. The Jets won 5-2. Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press

If the Winnipeg Jets can somehow bottle Tuesday's intensity and use it for future contests, the club's long-awaited climb to NHL relevance could come sooner than expected.

The Jets have set this course before, of course, looking to turn the corner that leads to consistency and sustained success. One solid effort against a team higher up in the standings results in the typical overreaction -- that comes with the territory in this market. But if the Jets can tie a string around the convincing 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and remember what that string was for, the chances of getting around that seemingly never-ending curve improve exponentially.

Winnipeg improved to 13-11-2 and moves into an eighth-place tie with the New York Rangers in the conference (28 points). As luck would have it, the Blueshirts are at MTS Centre Thursday night; a game now full of anticipation, set up in part by Tuesday's complete performance.

It wasn't that the Jets beat the Leafs: it was what they did to win it.

  • The sandpaper
It's more than dropping the gloves with a Leafs team that loves to litter the ice with leather. It's about getting involved after the whistle, sticking up for a teammate (when liberties are taken, and being the aggressor). It's a fine line and sometimes you get caught, but the Jets walked it perfectly against Toronto.
Yes, there were fights. Chris Thorburn, inserted into the lineup for just this occasion, fought Colton Orr and Jets Andrew Ladd took on his leadership counterpart Dion Phaneuf. Ladd's tussle against a stronger player was a 'we're in this together' message to his team, and another example of why he's captain. When the dust settled, the Jets roughed up the NHL's most physical team.

  • The response
The Leafs, down a goal in the first period, tied the score when PhilKessel scored early in the second. Typically, this would catapult the game into a defensive quagmire with the Jets dragging the opponent into a sludge of watered-down play and lockdown hockey.
Instead, the Jets found a different way to dictate the game. Blake Wheeler scored 25 seconds after the Kessel goal to not only give the home side the advantage, but to also give the crowd a reason to stay engaged. Plus, like most clubs in the NHL, the Jets find it easier to play their own game when they carry the lead.

  • The special teams
A rare power play goal came as the reward for a good start and a perfect night on the penalty kill (3-for-3) was highlighted by a killing a lengthy 5-on-3 Leafs power play (1:54) in the second period. It was the second time in four games Winnipeg was faced with such a task (Tampa Bay was thwarted on a two-minute 5-on-3 advantage last Thursday) and illustrated just how far the Jets penalty kill has come. Eight straight games without a power play goal against (25 straight kills) looks pretty good right now.

  • The secondary scoring
Nik Antropov had three points (1G, 2A) and Kyle Wellwood had a couple points (1G, 1A). Noteworthy why? Well, contributions from guys not named Ladd, Wheeler or Kane have been few and far between for the Jets  and it's cost them dearly some nights. If they can locate bonus scoring every night -- or even every other night -- it could go a long way towards a successful playoff  push.

  • The goaltending
The Leafs had more than a handful of good scoring chances but Ondrej Pavelec stood tall. His 24-save effort improves his save percentage to .903 on the year; the Jets starting goaltender has a .936 save percentage in his last three starts. It's been said in this space all year: Pavelec needs to be one of the better players down the stretch if the Jets want to keep turning that corner.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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