It was all about getting off to a strong start for the Winnipeg Jets heading in to Friday’s game against the red-hot St. Louis Blues, but it was a spectacular finish that transformed a two-goal deficit in to a 4-3 shootout win in front of a sold out crowd at the MTS Centre.
Criticized for their subpar first periods, the Jets hoped to turn things around against a St. Louis team who had just one loss in six games to start the year.
Instead, the Jets trailed 2-1 after the first frame – later falling to 3-1 - before a streak of late heroics in the third period paved the way for an Olli Jokinen seventh-round shootout-winning goal.
“I think we did a good job after they scored that third goal,” said Jets forward Blake Wheeler. “We weren’t hanging heads. We weren’t mailing it in and I think everyone still felt like we were in the game.
“You get that first one in and sometimes that second one is right behind it and that was the case tonight.”
For Jets head coach Claude Noel, the win signified a full effort from his troops.
“I thought it was a way better game,” said Noel during his post-game press conference. “I thought we played a lot harder. I thought we battled a lot harder for 60 minutes.
“We had opportunities to get demoralized and discouraged a bit but I thought against a team that can really close out games like St. Louis, I thought we stuck to the plan. It was good for us to play a complete game.”
Trouble for Trouba
That discouraging moment for the Jets came just three minutes in to the second period after rookie defenceman, Jacob Trouba, slipped face-first in to the boards behind the St. Louis net.
Trainers rushed to the aid of Trouba with the team’s medical staff close behind. The 19-year-old needed to be carried off the ice on a stretcher, leaving both teams and the 15,004 in attendance in shock.
“That’s the worst part of the game,” opined winger Blake Wheeler. “It’s a violent game and it’s a tough game. It’s your worst nightmare to see someone go down like that. He’s been such a spark for our team this year, such a bright spot. All we can really do is hope that everything’s ok there and we’re happy that we were able to rally and get a win for him.”
Noel said after the game that Trouba was still under evaluation but that “everything was good.”
“He’s got motion, everything is good,” said Noel. “They’re just running him through some tests to make sure that everything is fine.”
Defenceman Mark Stuart also left the game in the third period after playing one shift. The severity of the injury has yet to be determined.
Steen streak snapped
The St. Louis Blues had won 11 straight games when forward Alex Steen netted a goal. So when Steen – a Winnipeg native and son of former Winnipeg Jet legend, Thomas Steen - found the net twice Friday night it was all but fact the streak would improve to 12.
That is, until two third period goals from Evander Kane and Tobias Enstrom took the streak to a screeching halt, sparking the comeback for Winnipeg.
“My goal was a bit of a lucky goal,” admitted Kane. “I was just throwing the puck at the net.”
But not all was spoiled for Steen. He still reveled at fact he was able to play in front of his family and friends for the first time as a member of the Blues.
“I was hurt [the] last time my boys were here,” said Steen after the game. “It’s definitely a game I [had] circled. It was really exciting, a lot of people in the stands, a lot of friends so it was a special night for me for sure.”
Kane bounces back
Kane’s third period goal sparked the comeback for the Jets, cutting the deficit to 3-2 with just under seven minutes left in the game.
It was the kind of response Noel was looking for after he benched his star player for more than nine minutes midway through the game after Kane was called for two penalties.
“Evander plays with emotion and sometimes it gets him in trouble with penalties,” said Noel. “I thought he played with emotion afterwards. Things worked out OK for us. It was good.”
The win improves the Jets to 4-4-0 on the year. Their next game is set for Sunday night at the MTS Centre against the Nashville Predators.
The Jets made two mistakes in the first period and they both ended up in the back of their net. After Trouba went down, it was unclear how the Jets would react. But they battled hard to earn the win and restored some confidence in their fans.
First Star – Dustin Byfuglien, WPG
Noel called it his best performance in the three seasons he’s coached the big man. In a whopping 31:37 of ice time, Byfuglien finished with one assist and two shots.
Second Star – Alex Steen, STL
The Blues’ forward and former Winnipegger did everything he could to get his team a win. He scored twice in the game and added another in the shootout in a losing effort.
Third Star – Evander Kane
He was benched in the second period for taking two penalties, only to rebound back in the third. Kane started the comeback with his goal in the third, and added four shots in 20:33 of ice time.