It's amazing how playing in front of a home crowd can re-energize the Winnipeg Jets.
After completing a weary road trip in which they managed only six goals in six games - culminated by a dreadful 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens - the Jets offered one of their most complete efforts of the year to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1.
Lacking on their recent road swing was the willingness to take the puck to the "dirty areas" on the ice in order to create offense. While the scoreboard didn't scream offensive fireworks, the Jets created more scoring chances tonight than in their last three games combined, which resulted in an important win in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Winnipeg has struggled as of late, exhibiting a peripheral offense which has done little to put the puck in the back of their opponents net. That was corrected tonight as both goals by Chris Thorburn and Bryan Little were the result of driving wide on a Leafs defensemen before crashing the crease of Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and putting a shot towards the net.
Gustavsson most likely should have stopped the first goal, but there was little that could be done on Bryan Little's game winner as four Leafs stood around looking perplexed after Cody Franson was gashed by the speed of Blake Wheeler. Little had little more than to tap in Wheeler's rebound to give the Jets their first lead since their 4-1 win over Buffalo on January 19, 2012.
As for the Leafs, they put on a performance that would have Bill Barilko spinning in his grave. Their on-ice play was quite similar to the tragic passing of the former Leaf in the northern Ontario bush: unidentifiable to the naked eye. Aside a few chances by Phil Kessel - one resulting in Toronto's lone goal - the Leafs offense sputtered throughout, registering only a measly 18 shots on netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
Keep in mind, this isn't your older brothers Leafs; far from it actually. In case you hadn't noticed (and let's be real, the Jets have been out of the league since '96) the names of Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin have been replaced by that of Joffrey Lupul (that's All-Star Joffrey Lupul to you), Tim Connolly (who once concussed himself while reading a book) and Jonas Gustavsson (more amicably known to his friends as Tick Toc), none of whom can hold a candle to the folklore of their predecessors.
Let the record show that tonight, the Leafs were outscored by a team who has had trouble tying up their skates and putting on their jerseys let alone scoring goals. Comically, Toronto is only the second team this season to succumb to the "Chris Thorburn Rule" (ie: Thorburn scores, you lose). The Leafs could have used this game to distance themselves from the Senators and the Panthers, both of whom lost in their respective games. Instead, Toronto continues to cling to a bottom seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, as fans pray like hell that Wade Dubielewicz doesn't make his way back to North American ice to foil Toronto's reunion with the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In fact, there is a lot of hype surrounding the Leafs as they attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since the "JFJ Era", which is a huge deal for the franchise and the city. Torontonians are looking for any recent success that they can use to erase the memory of Ferguson after he traded away future franchise goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins, in turn receiving a rock which was presumed to keep tigers away (or maybe it was Andrew Raycroft). John Jr. - who learned under his father's tutelage - did his best to replace any and all roster talent with inanimate carbon rods which he would parade out on the ice in Leafs uniforms, unaware that Toronto's suicide rate was climbing higher with each and every transaction he completed. His legacy will be ingrained in the history of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey forever, right next to pillars such as Harold Ballard and Richard Peddie, better known as the great builders of the TML brand.
Of course, this is all done in jest. We had a very active day here at Arctic Ice Hockey and, given the opportunity to make someones coffee bitter tomorrow morning, we're damn well going to by whatever means necessary.
What other fans of the NHL need to remember when dealing with the Winnipeg Jets fan base is that you can mock the history - or in our case lack thereof. You can mock the fact that this city went fifteen cold winters without the NHL in our backyard. And yes, you can even mock the fact that this team is a mash-up of the widely unsuccessful Atlanta Thrashers.
But what you cannot mock - or for that matter what we won't let you mock - is that fact that we are sitting at the final table in the World Series of Poker holding a 7/2 off-suit. We really don't care what happens at this point; we're all in and just happy to be here. And tonight - while the chips were down - we just took a chunk of the Toronto Maple Leafs pot.
Suck on that.
First Period: 11:06 Toronto ES Goal, Phil Kessel (30) (Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak); 14:16 Winnipeg ES Goal, Chris Thorburn (2) (Zach Bogosian, Jim Slater)
Second Period: 09:47 Winnipeg ES Goal, Bryan Little (13) (Blake Wheeler, Johnny Oduya)
Third Period: No Scoring
Shots: Winnipeg 29, Toronto 18
Three Stars: 1. Blake Wheeler 2. Bryan Little 3. Phil Kessel
Ed. Note: There will be no "Thoughts From the Tarmac" tonight due to the length of the recap. We apologize to any of our readers who enjoy this feature. Look for it to return after the next Jets game.