With four days of rest and a coach so loose he was singing to reporters before the game, the Winnipeg Jets couldn’t have looked more prepared to face the surging Dallas Stars at the MTS Centre on Wednesday.
Even better for Winnipeg while the Stars arrived on a six-game winning streak, Dallas had played the night before in Minnesota, beating the Wild 1-0, and the Stars had a horrible record in the second game of a back-to-back, going 1-9-2.
It all added up to the Jets winning 5-2 thanks largely to a four-goal onslaught in the second period that left the Stars, well, seeing stars.
The win also kept Winnipeg’s playoff hopes alive at least for one more day.
Winnipeg now has 74 points, four behind the Washington Capitals which hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals play Winnipeg Friday at the MTS Centre in what will be a critical game for both teams. The Buffalo Sabres also remained ahead of Winnipeg, picking up one point in a 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado Wednesday. That gave the Sabres 75 points.
Before Wednesday’s game, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan worried about the Jets coming out strong. His team had to keep the game simple and weather the storm, he added. The Stars kept it simple alright, playing simply badly for much of the game.
“I thought our effort wasn't up to par and what it needed to be,” Gulutzan said after the game. “We just didn't have a lot of resolve in the second [period]”
Perhaps more embarrassing for the coach, his parents had made the trek to the game all the way from the family’s home in Hudson Bay, Sask., a small town 330 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. They not only watched their son’s team play poorly but also end an 11-game point streak, one of the longest runs in the team’s history.
“Usually these things come down with a thud,” Gulutzan said, referring to the streak's end. “They usually come down pretty hard, knock the wind out of you and maybe wake you up.”
Jets coach Claude Noel said his team likely took advantage of Dallas playing the second half of a back-to-back. “We played a patient game,” Noel said. “We happened to score a little bit more than we probably anticipated.”
The Jets took control from the start and scored less than three minutes into the game on a long shot by Nik Antropov that somehow beat Stars goalie Richard Bachman high. Bachman was starting in place of Kari Lehtonen and he hadn’t seen much action this season, playing in just 16 games and earning a record of 8-4-1.
The Jets plastered Dallas in the second with goals by Evander Kane, Eric Fehr and two from Andrew Ladd. By then the Jets had gotten scoring from all four lines and on the power play. The outburst left the Stars and Bachman reeling.
“It's real tough to swallow, and I've just got to be better,” Bachman said afterward. "We just kind of let that second period slip, in large part [because]I didn't feel extremely sharp tonight.”
Dallas managed two goals from Loui Eriksson but it made little difference as the Stars came so unglued toward the end of the game that forward Adam Burish prompted a round of fights with a childlike gesture. After some pushing and shoving in front of the Jets goal, Burish kicked Tanner Glass’s glove down the ice. When Glass took him to task, Burish picked up the glove and tossed it into the stands. That led to a round of fights and penalties, including a game misconduct for Burish.
“He threw my glove in the stands, it’s as simple as that,” Glass said afterward. “You can’t do that.”
The win bolstered Winnipeg’s confidence, especially coming off of two road losses last week in Vancouver and Calgary. But the way ahead for Winnipeg isn't easy.
The Jets have 12 games remaining, including seven on the road, where Winnipeg has been miserable. Winnipeg’s home and road records are almost mirror images -- 22-10-4 at home, 11-19-4 on the road.
When asked why the club’s fortune’s are so different home and away, Andrew Ladd paused and replied: “If I had an answer, we’d have fixed it a long time ago.”
If Winnipeg hopes to make the playoffs the Jets will likely have to win all five remaining games at home, which will include beating the Capitals, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators. The Jets will also have to go better than .500 on their road games, which includes games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers.
For now Noel said he was only concerned about Washington on Friday which he acknowledged will be a “huge game.”
“We’ll go at it tomorrow and look forward to Friday,” he said. “It should be beautiful.”