Like every sport, hockey is a games of ups and downs. You play through the ebb and flow of the season, and the best teams go the distance. There are always a handful of games diehard fans remember about each season, for one reason or another, whether it's good or bad. After Thursday night's game, I took the time to sit back and reflect on what seemed to be a normal two points in the standings. However, upon further review, this was not just any other game. There were certain extenuating circumstances that when I looked back, I realized that it was a feat in itself that Thursday night's game was won. I like to call it a character win. After the jump, I'll break down Thursday night's game and explain why this win carried extra significance.
Absence of a key player: Monday night, as most of us already know, Tobi Enstrom got hit by Jack Skille of the Florida Panthers and sustained a broken collarbone. Without Enstrom, this left an already vulnerable defense corps even more vulnerable. The rock of the defense who often covers for Dustin "everyday I'm" Byfuglien's mistakes could not be relied on and can't be relied on for an indefinite period of time. This team could have gotten down on themselves and played lackadaisical defense, but they didn't. They skated their tails off and forwards backchecked their tails off in order to make sure Pavelec was protected.
The "I think I can moment": Usually in wins like these, there's an improbable moment where a player does something that you only see a few times a season. The kind of play where no matter how many times you watch, you come to the conclusion that the only way it was done was through sheer force of will. I think we all know what this play is. Evander Kane put the team on his back. Kane took on 4 Islanders players BY HIMSELF and somehow managed to grab his own rebound twice, and on the third try he stuffed it in the back of net. The deke around Travis Hamonic gave him the space to get to the need and essentially get between the defenders and get the shot he originally wanted. This moment made you believe that the team could get over the hump and win the tough game on the road.
Block party: When you're shorthanded at a position, the healthy players are obviously gonna get the call to put the extra effort out there on the ice to make up for the aforementioned absence. The Jets were able to do that and then some. Each and every shift, there was someone sliding in front of pucks and putting their body on the line. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Zach Bogosian and Jim Slater blocked four and three shots, respectively, but the two blocked shots that carried the most magnitude were that of Nik Antropov and Randy Jones. Jonesy's blocked shot sent him to the bench but not to the locker room, and Antropov was hurt by his blocked shot also. In this particular game, it's the little plays that come up big when the final whistle is blown, and hopefully it wasn't lost upon any of you that Thursday night's effort was the best in a while considering the situation. It certainly wasn't lost on Ondrej Pavelec. "We just wanted to play our game," Pavelec said. "We must have had at least 20 blocked shots, and the guys did a great job in front of me."
Goalie steps up: The storyline of this game at the start was the banged up defensive corps, and since not everything happens in a vacuum, this in turn affects the goalie. Ondrej Pavelec didn't seem to let it bother him. The 19 blocked shots from the Jets on top of a 34 save shutout by Pavelec is demonstrative of the potential this youthful team has. Plays were made just from hard work alone, and when a team does that 60 minutes per night, your chances to win are always real high. I've always felt that Pavelec has the ability to be a starting goalie in this league for a long time. While the young Czech goaltender has had his struggles this season, keep in mind he's only 24. Nights like these remind us how great it is to be a fan of a team with as much heart and soul as the Winnipeg Jets.
For a team that had its back against the wall, Thursday night's performance was how any coach would want his team to play. But it can't be all for naught. This weekend your Jets play back-to-back games against New Jersey and the Rangers. We can only hope that Thursday night's matchup will serve as a stepping stone for great efforts tonight and tomorrow.