It was a new feeling for the Winnipeg Jets; although they were eliminated from the playoffs, they could still make a splash in the post-season standings in the Eastern Conference with a win over their rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, in what would be the final nationally televised game of the season.
The action started an hour before the game, as it was announced that Evander Kane would be a healthy scratch, and Ondrej Pavelec would start the game in goal. Both moves surprised Jets’ fans, as Maurice called the move a “coach’s decision”. Despite not having #9 in the lineup, Glen Healy of CBC called the Jets’ roster the “best available” to make an impact in the playoff picture.
Both the Jets and Leafs started the game with quick shifts, and Paul Maurice quickly matched up Andrew Ladd and his #1 line against that of Phil Kessel and the Leafs’. Kessel was the first to score, tying a career high with 37 goals on a 2-on-1. As they have many times before this season, the Leafs took their foot off the gas, and Winnipeg stormed back.
Bryan Little finished a pass from Michael Frolik in the slot, tying the game at 1. After Tobias Enstrom took the only penalty of the period, Ondrej Pavelec gave Nazem Kadri the puck in front of the goal, and showed no ambition to attempt a save, as the Leafs scored an easy goal.
The Jets weren’t done, however. With only three seconds left in the period, Jacob Trouba scored his 10th goal of the season in front of the net. The period ended with both combatants tied 2-2, and the Jets holding a 12-8 advantage in shots.
The second period started at a much slower pace, with both teams playing the body and forcing pucks to the outside. The Jets would take two straight penalties (Matt Halischuk, Mark Stuart) but the Jets killed those in impressive fashion.
After the Leafs didn’t put a shot on goal in 10 consecutive minutes, it was Winnipeg that broke the ice. Tobias Enstrom’s point shot made it through the crowd and past Reimer, giving the Jets a 3-2 lead that they held going into the third period. Shots in the second frame were 14-7 for the Jets.
Winnipeg came out for the third on the penalty-kill after Enstrom played the puck over the glass, but the Leafs could not get anything going in the offensive zone in the first 90 seconds, and the Jets played an effective trap game thereafter.The Air Canada Center was dead quiet all period, and the Leafs seemed to fight the puck more and more as the minutes ticked by, although their 10 shots that period was the highest of the three.
Olli Jokinen, fresh off a nomination for the Masterton Trophy, buried his second in as many games with 13 minutes to go, and it seemed the Maple Leafs had no gas left for a comeback. The Jets held the fort the rest of the way, and finished with a 4-2 win.
After many called for Ondrej Pavelec to be pulled after the first period where he allowed two goals on his first three shots, he made 20 straight saves the rest of the way, including some impressive stops on the Leafs’ power-plays in the second period. His .920% save percentage was only the second time he finished north of .900% in the past seven games. James Reimer picked up the loss with a 36-save effort (.902%).
Dustin Byfuglien was the game’s only casualty, and left with a lower-body injury. He is listed as day-to-day, and there is no word on whether he will be able to dress for the Jets on Monday.
The game saw plenty of milestones: Jacob Trouba scored his 10th of the season as a rookie defenseman, while Nazem Kadri is now a 20-goal scorer in only his second full season. Phil Kessel, who was on pace for 40 goals coming out of the Olympic break, has slowed up a little, but has three games to set a new career high with his 38th goal.
The Leafs are in serious trouble after failing to pick up any points on Saturday, and trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by one point, with the Jackets holding two games in hand going into the final week of the regular season. Columbus is 8-1 this season against the five teams they face to close out their year, while the Leafs head on the road for their final three games.
The Jets return home for a date with the Minnesota Wild on Monday. Puck drop is at 7:00 PM Central time on TSN Jets.
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