Maybe it was the Halloween spirits that turned Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel into a clairvoyant but hours before Monday’s game against the Florida Panthers he had a feeling about how his team would play. “I sense we are going to be good tonight,” he said.
Keep the crystal ball Claude.
The Jets were more than good and managed a miraculous win Monday, beating the Panthers 4-3 in a shootout before a half-filled BankAtlantic Center.
The win came thanks largely to forward Kyle Wellwood who scored once, played a key role in a controversial tying goal and then scored in the shoot out along with Andrew Ladd to give the Jets the victory, only their second road win this season. The Jets moved to 4-6-1 while the Panther are now 6-4-1.
Wellwood, 28, has been a quiet leader for the Jets and he now leads the team in total goals scored with five. “I’m just trying to contribute,” he said after the game with his characteristic flat tone. “I’m challenging myself to be better all the time and it’s starting to show in my play.”
But Wellwood was quick to add that this was a game the Jets came close to blowing. Once again the team built up a lead and nearly lost it. And once again the Jets were almost done in by penalties, this time six including a double minor to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien for roughing.
“It was our game definitely to win there, we’ve got to find ways to win,” Panther forward Kris Versteeg said after the game. “The first goal, second goal, third goal of theirs, all pretty lucky bounces. We’re going to go back to work tomorrow.”
The Panthers owned much of the early going, jumping all over the Jets and their goalie Ondrej Pavelec. He staved off the bombardment and the Jets managed a brief counter attack with Ladd, Wellwood and Bryan Little racing up the ice. The puck ended up behind the Panther goal. Ladd dug it out and fired it to Wellwood who was perfectly positioned in front of Panther goalie Jose Theodore. Wellwood’s quick shot went in. It was only the Jets second shot of the game.
For the next few minutes of the first period the Jets looked in control, making crisp passes, avoiding dumb penalties and doing just about everything else Noel has been begging for. The smart played paid off later in the first on a power play with the Panther’s Scottie Upshall off for elbowing Evander Kane. Zach Bogosian fired a long shot that Theodore stopped but the puck rebounded out to Nik Antropov who got it to Kane and he smacked it in. At that point, Theodore had let in two goals on just seven shots.
“I guess it’s a bit of a nice touch to score on the power play where you drew the penalty,” said Kane who had one of his better games of the year.
The tide changed as the first period wound down. The Panthers came alive, firing shot after shot at Pavelec, including blasts from Tim Kennedy, Shawn Matthias and Jason Garrison. Finally with just 20 seconds left in the period Garrison fired one more and it beat Pavelec. It was Garrison’s fifth goal of the year, the most by any defenceman in the NHL so far this season. By the end of the first the Panthers had fired 20 shots at Pavelec, 13 more than the Jets had sent to Theodore.
The second period started evenly. But then Byfuglien handed the Panthers a gift with an ill-timed retribution. It came after Jet defenceman Tobias Enstrom was nailed while bending over for the puck by a hard check by Panther forward Jack Skille. Byfuglien came flying in for revenge and pounded Skille into the boards, taking a double minor for roughing. Skille drew no penalty for his hit, although Enstrom did not return to the game and it’s not clear how badly he was hurt.
But the Panthers’ supposedly potent power play failed and the Jets escaped the period with their a one goal lead.
“We played good in the second and [killing that penalty]was huge,” said Pavelec, who made 39 saves in the game.
Barely four minutes into the third, the Panthers tied the game when Pavelec couldn’t control a long shot from Mike Weaver, the rebound came out to Fleischmann who had an open net and didn’t miss.
The Jets looked ready to fold. But Pavelec came up big, stopping a two-on-one chance and blocking a point blank shot from Versteeg. But with about three minuets left to play, Jets forward Blake Wheeler got called for holding. This time the Panther power play worked, quickly, with Fleischmann scoring.
That set up the late game controversy.
The Jets pulled Pavelec and with 49 seconds left, Wellwood swatted the puck out of the air while standing in a crowd in front of Theodore. The puck flipped over to Kane who batted it past Theodore. The referee initially waved off the goal, indicating that Kane’s stick was too high. But after a review the goal stood.
The overtime settled nothing and the Jets won on the shootout with Ladd and Wellwood the only goal scorers.
Noel said he wasn’t sure the tying goal would count. “I wasn’t confident that it would hold up. You don’t know, the review is the review. We just hoped that things fall your way.”
Wellwood also had no idea. “I didn’t know if it popped higher than when I originally touched it or not. But for Kane to find it and slap it in like that was a beauty.”
Panther’s coach Kevin Dineen was not so generous. “When you get it waved off that emphatically, the referee is standing there and he waves it off three or four times, you’re under the assumption it’s going to be a no goal,” he said. “When a guy’s waving it off that much it’s a shame. I think some people will learn some lessons from that. I think there was a mistake made on the ice and unfortunately it cost us a point, a very expensive point.”
The Panthers have had some close games and wild finishes lately, something that concerns Dineen. They lost to Ottawa Thursday 4-3 after the Senators scored in the dying seconds of the game. They won in Buffalo 3-2 two days later but only after a frantic last minute flurry.
Dineen attributes it all to a lack of chemistry, which is understandable considering he is new to the team this season along with more than a dozen other players.
“We felt like we played hard tonight and had some real opportunities and there was some pace to our game, but I think we were sloppy at times, too,” he said after Monday’s game. “We felt like it was two points we could have, and fairly obviously, should have had.”