Seventeen goals, three goaltending changes, one blown-four goal lead and countless crazy bounces. Throw in a heroic goal in the last minute and it’s hard to believe this was a game involving the Winnipeg Jets. But it was and the Jets managed to hang on, just barely, to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 9-8 in front of a sold-out crowd that left the Wells Fargo Center likely more perplexed than anything.
The victory came with just 1 minute 6 seconds left in the third on a goal by Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd. That was after the Jets had given up leads of 5-1 and 8-7. The Flyers had outscored the Jets 4-3 in the third period and out-shot them 48-25 in the game. And they still lost.
“It’s the strangest game I think I’ve been a part of,” Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said afterward. “I had the Rosary out, I had everything. ... It wasn’t an enjoyable night.”
Jets defenceman Mark Stuart, one of 15 different players to score, summed up the game in one word: “Stressful. Something I don’t want to experience again, basically.”
By any measure, this was a bizarre event. Take your pick of wackiness -- most goals scored by two teams in nearly 15 years, 48 combined goals and assists, 12 penalties, four lead changes in one period. And then add this: the score could have been even higher. The referees disallowed a goal the Jets thought they had scored early in the first period.
The game started with a beautiful goal just four minutes into the first with the seemingly ageless Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr executing a flawless give-and-go with Scott Hartnell. After a couple of perfect passes, Hartnell easily put it past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who comes from the same town in the Czech Republic as Jagr.
But then the Jets got lucky and Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky got rattled. He started in goal in place of high-priced free agent Ilya Bryzgalov because Bryzgalov had started the night before in Montreal, a game the Flyers lost.
The luck for the Jets came at 10:01 of the first when Blake Wheeler blasted a hard shot from the blueline that deflected off the skate of Jets defenceman Randy Jones and into the Flyers goal. By the end of the period the Jets had a 3-1 lead and fans were booing Bobrovsky, who had made just eight saves on 11 shots.
The second period started much the same before Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout to settle his players. It didn’t work. The Jets scored two quick goals: a deflection by Tanner Glass on a hard shot from defenceman Tobias Enstrom and then a power-play goal by Nik Antropov, who was wide open at the side of the Flyers net.
That made it 5 -1. Heady stuff for the Jets who had never enjoyed such a big lead this season and been prone to blow all leads anyway. It was also more than enough for Laviolette, who pulled Bobrovsky and inserted Bryzgalov.
But then the Flyers started getting a few breaks of their own, thanks to more lucky bounces and some Jets miscues.
All week, Noel had been urging his players not to make dumb mistakes or take bad penalties, something that cost them Monday’s game against the New York Rangers. But that lesson has clearly yet to be learned and the team took six penalties in the second period, including a delay-of-game call to Evander Kane after he fired the puck over the boards. The Flyers took advantage, scoring once while the Jets had two men in the penalty box and adding two more, including a fortunate bounce off forward Maxime Talbot’s leg.
By the end of the second it was 6-4 Jets. The Flyers could taste blood. They had outshot the Jets 32-16 in the first two periods and appeared to be gaining momentum.
They came out flying in the third, scoring three goals in less than two minutes. Now the Flyers were in charge, leading 7-6 and cruising. They had just scored the last five goals, including two from Danny Briere, and were charging the Jets goal unimpeded.
Noel took a timeout and pulled Pavelec, replacing him with backup Chris Mason.
The Jets sill looked defeated and headed for a collapse. But just 30 seconds after the Flyers went ahead, the Jets put together a series of remarkable passes, starting from their own zone and working the puck eventually up to Alexander Burmistrov who blasted it passed Bryzgalov. About a minute later, Stuart looked like a hero for the Jets by giving them an 8-7 lead after another blend of fine passing. But this night wouldn’t end that easily.
Noel had to make another goaltending change, putting Pavelec back in when Mason pulled his groin about midway through the third. Soon afterward, Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk tied the game, scoring his second of the night.
Now the Flyers were back in charge. They took the play to the Jets and seemed close to scoring several times. But then with time running down, Ladd managed to break free, make a wild shot and score. The crowd didn’t know how to react, having gone from booing to cheering so many times they were clearly confused.
After the game Bryzgalov, who has now lost his last five starts, told reporters he was at the lowest point of his career.
Van Riemsdyk tried to come to his defence, saying the game was just too unpredictable to blame on one player. “I think it shows how much he cares,” he said referring to Bryzgalov’s comments. “But at the same time I don’t want to put all the blame on him. There were a lot of puck bounces and tips.”
For his part, Ladd didn’t celebrate his heroics too much. “We’ve definitely got to tighten up a a lot,” he said. “The spree of penalties in the second period kind of let them get back in the game and they had a couple of power-play goals and momentum going into the third. When that happens you’ve got to find a way to stop it and get it going the other way. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that, but in the end we were able to battle back and that’s what counts.”
He added that “whether it’s a 9-8 win, a 2-1 win, a 1-0 win. We’ll take it.”
Stuart also wasn’t rejoicing. “We can’t play like that,” he said. “We are not going to win many games if we play like that.”
Noel was still scratching his head long after the game was over. When asked what was going through his mind as he watched the third period unfold, Noel replied: “I thought to myself, ‘You are sick man trying to make logic of this’.”
Did he take any lessons from the night? “You learn that you might need a sports psychologist just to manage the brains of the coach.”
On a serious note, Noel said he was happy the team has suddenly discovered a scoring touch and he’ll take the two points for the win, especially with six upcoming games on the road. The Jets are now 3-5-1 with seven points.
“We’ve won two of three, we got our first win on the road. So we have some things to feel good about,” he added. “But you can’t play this way. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a game like this.”
He’s not alone.