Jets victory over Tampa important marker for team

By: Adam Wazny | Wednesday, April 17

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane celebrate with Andrew Ladd after he scored the shootout ending goal against the Tampa Bay Lightnings during NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Tuesday. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press)

Tuesday: a day of success, relief and an important reminder for the Winnipeg Jets.

While the club earned the full complement of points in a 4-3 shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning -- the bottom line in their current playoff chasing situation, no doubt -- take a moment to reflect on how the events of the evening unfolded at MTS Centre. 

Those anxious feelings and gnawed fingertips suggest there's a lesson in there somewhere, especially if you subscribe to the perils of trap games and the dangers of looking ahead.

On Tuesday, Winnipeg barely made it through the lowly Lightning, after blowing a 3-1 lead. 

It was a game they had on the line, a game they let wiggle off the hook, and a game they managed to eventually get in the boat. Tuesday provided a perfect illustration as to why the club can't afford to cheat past another Southeast division afterthought as the biggest game of the season, Saturday's matchup with the New York Islanders, approaches.

Before the Isles, who are currently above the Jets in the Eastern Conference standings, the Jets have a Thursday date with the free-falling Hurricanes. Carolina has exactly two wins in its last 17 games. And another trap is set.

Tuesday, specifically the tripwires it contained, appeared to be no problem for a careful Winnipeg squad in the first 40 minutes. That was before things started to move sideways in the third. 

If they dropped that one -- or failed to collect the extra point after regulation after squandering the two-goal lead -- it would have been demoralizing for the club and its post-season hopes.

In a word: phew.

Tuesday was a string around a finger: Think the coaches, players, equipment guys, ushers, parking attendants and everyone else associated with the north-pointing Jet won't take the Lightning message and repeat its cautionary tale every chance they get over the next 24 hours? 

Two points against Carolina is a must situation. Anything less would be catastrophic. 

Tuesday wasn't all concern in dark blue. Captain Andrew Ladd continued his strong example with two goals and the shootout clinching score. His best moment came when he absorbed a big hit from Victor Hedman along the boards, fought through the bigger Lightning defenceman, and found Blake Wheeler, who eventually scored. 

Ladd is on a five-game points streak (4G, 5A) and now has a team-leading 18 goals and 41 points.

Tuesday also saw another strong second period from the home side. Two more goals, and the Jets have outscored opponents 12-0 in the second through the first four victories of this six-game block at MTS Centre. 

Winnipeg now has a plus-17 goal differential in the second, far and away its best period of the season.

Despite the win, though, Tuesday didn't advance the Jets into a better situation standings-wise. Winnipeg (22-19-2, 46 points, five games remaining) did pull even with the New York Rangers (21-17-4) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference (New York dropped a 3-2 decision in Philadelphia), but the Blueshirts still have a game in-hand over the Jets and a lighter schedule down the road.

Looking up, the Islanders (22-16-5, 49 points, five games remaining) are in seventh spot, while Ottawa (22-14-6, 50 points, six games) occupies the No. 6 position. As for the third-seeded Washington Capitals (24-17-2, 50 points, five games), they continue to lead the Southeast by four points over the Jets, thanks to their eighth-straight win Tuesday.

Here's what Tuesday taught us regarding the out-of-town scoreboard: there probably won't be too much help out there for Winnipeg the rest of the way, so the Jets need to stay in the moment and keep the focus on what's in front of them.

Tuesday, they almost lost sight of this. Let's see how Thursday looks now.

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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