Tonight the Winnipeg Jets made a statement to the rest of the Southeast Division: They are not going away quietly, and certainly not without a fight.
After Monday's horrific third period meltdown at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, the Jets proved that there were no lingering effects as they exploded for seven goals on the Florida Panthers, in what turned out to be their most lob-sided victory of the year.
Winnipeg got off to a good start less than five minutes into the opening frame when Evander Kane intercepted a Keaton Ellerby pass and beat Jose Theodore with a wrist shot to make it 1-0 for the Jets.
Only 2:02 later the Jets would take a 2-0 lead as Jim Slater was the beneficiary of a pervasive foercheck applied by the GST line, burying a shot past a helpless Theodore who had been knocked down by Ed Jovanovski, leaving the Panthers net unattended.
Trailing on the scoreboard, Florida began to create their own scoring opportunities and Ondrej Pavelec was forced to make some pivotal saves in the latter stages of the period; none more glorious than the those made on fellow Czech Tomas Fleischmann who was handed a pair of breakaways, preserving Winnipeg's two goal lead.
While the first period was a display of Winnipeg's sheer dominance, Florida took control of the game for long spans in the second, outshooting the Jets 17-8. Pavelec and his band of defensemen sans one Johnny Oduya - now of the Chicago Blackhawks - held firm and maintained Winnipeg's lead heading into the games final period.
With Monday's collapse still sore to the touch, the Jets provided the MTS Centre's capacity crowd win an effusion of offense, exorcising all doubts of their ability to protect a lead.
Goals were plentiful as Kyle Wellwood, Bryan Little, Nikolai Antropov, Evander Kane (his second) and Blake Wheeler quelled any notion of a Panthers comeback, putting an exclamation point on Winnipeg's bid for first in the Southeast.
With the win the Jets have increased their record to 31-27-8, and now sit only two points behind Florida for the division lead while momentarily squeezing past the Washington Capitals into eight place in the East.
Offensive production has been abundant for Winnipeg as of late, but their inability to close out games has been an issue that has beleaguered the club at different points this season. Rather than go for the jugular of their opponents, the Jets have been content to toy with their prey, similar to how a cat will bat around a mouse that is playing dead. On several occasions, this approach has blown up in their face as late game leads have evaporated and two points in the standings column have evaporated in front of their eyes.
Tonight's game, however, was the exact inverse of what this city have come to accept of their hockey team.
They weren't content to just sit back and let Florida dictate the pace in the third period. Instead, Winnipeg continued pushing play offensively, generating traffic in the crease of Jose Theodore (and Scott Clemmensen), resulting in five goals on eleven shots.
Affirmed by this evenings thumping is that if the Jets continue to string together efforts such as this, they will remain in playoff contention throughout the regular seasons final month. Consistency, however, has been the teams Achillies Heel and it is anyone's guess as to what we can expect from them as the season winds to a close.
Winnipeg will host the Buffalo Sabres next Monday in their final reunion of 2011-12 before jettisoning west for two all-Canadian battles with Calgary and Vancouver.
Second Period: No Scoring
Third Period: 01:49 Winnipeg ES Goal, Kyle Wellwood (14) (Mark Stuart, Evander Kane); 04:35 Winnipeg ES Goal, Bryan Little (19) (Blake Wheeler, Randy Jones); 08:06 Winnipeg PP Goal, Nikolai Antropov (10) (Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom); 08:18 Winnipeg ES Goal, Evander Kane (26) (Kyle Wellwood, Alexander Burmistrov); 17:58 Winnipeg ES Goal, Blake Wheeler (14) (Evander Kane, Tim Stapleton)
Shots: Winnipeg 32, Florida
Three Stars: 1. Evander Kane 2. Ondrej Pavelec 3. Blake Wheeler
Thoughts from the Tarmac
- Despite being Winnipeg's largest margin of victory this year (7), it is still not a franchise record. That record was set November 12, 2005 when the Atlanta Thrashers stomped the Carolina Hurricanes 9-0. I miss you, Peter Bondra!
- Winnipeg lays claim to the best power play unit at home this season, operating at a clip of 25%. Tonight they went 1-3 (33%), which will slightly boost those numbers.
- Evander Kane led all Jets with four points (2G, 2A) tonight. Blake Wheeler (1G, 1A), Kyle Wellwood (1G, 1A) and Mark Stuart (2A) all had two point nights.
- More Evander Kane: Going into this game vs. the Panthers, he had registered ten points (5G, 5A) in his last seven games. He has been streaky, but when he's on fire watch out!
- Bryan Little's goal was a rarity in the NHL as it was the product of a 5 on 1 rush. I honestly don't think I've ever seen that before.
- Ron Hainsey and Randy Jones were absolute rock stars on Winnipeg's back end tonight. Though his advanced stats don't show it (-11 Fenwick, -12 Corsi), Hainsey was a cog in Winnipeg's penalty kill and seemed to be comfortable paired up with Zach Bogosian who is playing his first game since returning from a recent injury. Jones for his part finished the game with one assist (Fenwick 3, Corsi 4). Both players were a combined +5.
- Winnipeg continues to be solid when leading after two periods. Their record now climbs to 24-3-1 in such games. If only they could hold onto third period leads.
- With tonight's victory at the MTS Centre, the Winnipeg Jets are now 20-10-4 at home on the season, which is currently seventh best in the league. The Jets have now won more than 20 games at home in one year for the first time since 2007 when they registered 23.