Hustle, drive, compete, passion, resiliency. Tonight, the Winnipeg Jets displayed a healthy mix of all of these elements, which culminated in a hard fought 2-1 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On the heels of miraculously sleepwalking their way through a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Jets had their hands full against the surging Lightning, a team who had won each of their last five games and clawed their way back into the hunt for the Southeast Divisional Championship.
A sub-par team away from home, Winnipeg could have fooled the average viewer with their play tonight as they systematically imposed their will on Tampa Bay in the early going. Although the shots at the end of the first period would only favor Winnipeg by a count of 7-6, it was hardly indicative of how effective their forecheck was. The Jets came at them in droves, rendering the Bolts vaunted counter-attack powerless, hemming them deep in the defensive zone shift after shift. It wasn't until late in the first period when Tampa Bay regained their composure and began to mount their comeback .
The second period was a see-saw affair that showcased moments of brilliant hockey as both teams transitioned from their defensive posture to generating an odd-man rush in the blink of an eye. The tempo rivaled that of two prize fighters circling in a boxing ring, exchanging counter-punches in small flurries on their adversary and on this night, it would be the Jets who would land the first staggering blow.
Late in the frame Blake Wheeler pounced on a Jim Slater rebound which caught Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon off guard, giving Winnipeg a 1-0 lead.
Lamentably, Winnipeg's dreaded Achilles Heel - better known as the third period - would be exposed to it's opponent again tonight. Much like old farm equipment in a prairie field now condemned by it's former inhabitants, the Jets offense was abandoned; left to alone to rust. Now hauntingly stagnant, decrepit and recluse, it was now up to Ondrej Pavelec and his small band of shot blockers to do their best to preserve a much needed victory.
Valiant as their effort was, it would be in vain. Victor Hedman - who was sprung by a heady Martin St. Louis pass - outworked the defense of Dustin Byfuglien and wristed a shot under the blocker arm of Pavelec, tying the game at one.
Down and out,
After Bryan Little failed to capitalize on a glorious opportunity at the start of the extra period, it was Kyle Wellwood's turn to play the role of the hero. After collecting a well-timed pass from Blake Wheeler, Wellwood roofed a shot over-top of a helpless Mathieu Garon, salting away two valuable road points for a team determined to white-wash their rotten month of January.
Winnipeg will now travel to Sunrise, FL to battle the Florida Panthers in another "must win"game for both teams.
First Period: No Scoring
Second Period: 19:44 Winnipeg ES Goal, Blake Wheeler (10) (Jim Slater, Andrew Ladd)
Third Period: 10:34 Tampa Bay ES Goal, Victor Hedman (3) (Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos)
Overtime: 03:14 Winnipeg ES Goal, Kyle Wellwood (10) (Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien)
Shots: Winnipeg 24, Tampa Bay 31
Three Stars: 1. Kyle Wellwood 2. Victor Hedman 3. Dustin Byfuglien
Thoughts from the Tarmac
- Love him or hate him, Dustin Byfuglien makes this team a hell of a lot better. The power play seems to have way more movement when he is a part of it and though he had a few of his shots blocked, at least they have their trigger-man back. His Corsi was a -1 on the night and despite getting worked over by Victor Hedman which lead to a goal, he managed a secondary assist on the game winner.
- Eric Fehr, Nikolai Antropov and Kyle Wellwood were also very effective for the Jets tonight. They forechecked extremely well early in the game and Wellwood finished with four shots and the game winner. I wouldn't mind that line becoming the every day third line (when everyone is healthy) as they compliment each other nicely.
- Alexander Burmistrov also made his return for the Jets tonight, registering a modest 11:27 of TOI. His presence was beneficial to Winnipeg's fourth line as Claude Noel had the confidence to roll all four lines for a full sixty minutes tonight, which bodes well for tomorrow in Florida.
- This was only the eighth time (!) that Winnipeg had all six of their opening day defenseman healthy. Eight out of fifty two. Just imagine if that corps could have stayed out of the infirmary this year.
- Winnipeg went 13 minutes of play in the second period without registering a shot, giving up 8 unanswered shots in that time-frame. Their lapse in offense set the table for Tampa Bay's third period comeback and could have had disastrous results if not for Kyle Wellwood's overtime magic. They have to find a way to avoid playing so passive with the lead.
- Winnipeg's power play continues to struggle. While the unit looks more cohesive with Dustin Byfuglien at the helm, it still only managed one shot in two attempts tonight.
- Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis have accounted for 48% of Tampa Bay's goal scoring (team total 136 total goals before tonight). Fortunately for the Jets the trio was silent tonight.
- How Steve Yzerman handles his goaltending situation come the trade deadline will be interesting to see. It's still any one's game in the Southeast and if he can find a good deal on the market, Yzerman could look to replace Dwayne Roloson on his roster. That said, Mathieu Garon has carried the load since Christmas and is still fresh enough to carry this team the rest of the way.
- In only his third game back from a lower-body injury, Victor Hedman scored his third goal of the year. Now that multiple players are returning from injury, the Lightning can still made a push in the division.
- Former Manitoba Moose Pierre-Cedric Labrie played in only the eight NHL game of his career tonight, and his first versus the Jets. When asked by Dennis Beyak what he most fondly remembers from his days in Manitoba, Labrie stated it was Mike Keane.