It had the makings of a gunfight but when it came time to pull the trigger, the Jets ended up shooting blanks.
Winnipeg had come into Monday night’s tilt against Minnesota fresh off a 4-3 overtime victory in St. Paul Saturday to claim the first of home-and-home games against the Wild this week.
A win on the road, combined with a valuable two points in the Western Conference standings and a nine-point cushion on their Central Division rivals should have been enough motivation to come out firing on home ice.
'I didn’t enjoy it' - Jets coach Paul Maurice
But even after weathering a Wild push at the beginning of the first period — the Jets didn’t record their first shot of the game until the 7:30 mark of the opening frame — and even building up a 2-0 lead in the early stages of the second period, Winnipeg fell flat, eventually losing 3-2 in front of a packed-house at the MTS Centre.
“I didn’t enjoy it,” were the words Jets head coach Paul Maurice used to describe the game.
Sloppy, missed opportunities and defensive zone miscues were also buzzwords used by the Jets’ bench boss. But what most likely left the worst taste in Maurice’s mouth, or anyone rooting for the home team on this night, was the second period play by the Jets.
After Mathieu Perreault made it a 2-0 game for the home side just 20 seconds in to the second, finishing a nice feed from Blake Wheeler on the power play, the Wild, who came in the game losers in their last five, started to make a surge.
And with some help from the Jets.
Fairy tale falls short
In what can only be described as a fairy tale story so far — you know, the one about Jets defensive corps rallying despite being four men short due to injury — Monday was the beginning of a new chapter. Only this time it ended with the hero falling on the sword.
Paul Postma, who has played some of his most consistent hockey of late, cued the Minnesota comeback with a feeble clearing attempt. The puck went off a shin pad and two passes later it was on the stick of Wild forward Ryan Carter who then put a nifty move on Michael Hutchinson to cut the Jets' lead to 2-1.
“I didn’t think I wanted to play that puck,” said Postma when asked to reflect on the play after the game. “If I look back on the video, I would have probably played it a little differently. I could have caught him on a break if that doesn’t go off a skate or something but it’s a tough break and unfortunately we had a few too many of those tonight.”
The Wild made it 2-2 with a goal from Justin Fontaine, who showed more poise than his two goals in 29 games would have suggested, tucking the puck blocker side on Hutchison in tight.
Wild defenceman Marco Scandella provided the kill shot, converting on a slapshot that would find the skate of Jets D-man Jay Harrison before beating Hutchinson, made worse by the fact there were only 11 seconds to go before the period was over.
“That’s bound to happen over the course of the season,” said Hutchinson, who fell to 9-3-2 with the loss. “It’s unfortunate it happened at that time in the game but it’s just one of those things that happens in hockey.
"We almost got one of those in the third period off their guy's skate and it just went wide. We’ll get those bounces throughout the year, too.”
Wild go into protection mode
So chalk it up as bad puck-luck and move on?
“No, we’ll look at it a little harder than that,” said Maurice, his Jets now 19-11-7 on the year. “We’ll be careful about the bad luck ones. Saying that, the puck gets to the net for a reason so you have to look at how they got their pucks to the net.
“Strange play on the first one, just little things that you have to learn on how to handle those situations differently; not just Paul but the other four (players on the ice) — what they’re doing when that puck’s dead.
“Second one is ours. We didn’t backcheck the way we needed to on that play. And the third one is off a skate, but I don’t like the puck getting into our end of the ice under the control the way they did.”
After the Wild took the lead, it was all about protecting it. Minnesota, desperate to make a push back into the playoff race, went in to protection mode, trading in offensive rushes for defensive zone coverage.
The Wild recorded just six shots in the final period, knowing well that they could sit on a lead, a skill they’ve honed over the years.
It's no coincidence Minnesota allows the fewest number of shots against per game at 26.6. Rarely did the Jets find themselves on any odd-man advantages and most of their shots were forced from the outside.
It also helps when you’re willing to put your body in the line of fire. The Wild collected 28 blocked shots by the time the final whistle blew.
“Every game right now is big,” said Postma. “They came out with their best tonight. We weathered the storm for a while and I think we took it to them but you've got to give them credit, they played really well.
“We’ve been playing great right now. I think we set the bar pretty high and if we can play at this level the whole year and into the New Year I think we’ve got a pretty good chance to make the playoffs and making a bit of a run at it.”
If that indeed is the case, the Jets will have to make sure they’re packing some real heat down the stretch.