For any Winnipeg Jets fan who had a ticket to Friday night’s game, it was a perfect evening. He/she got to see Sidney Crosby score twice and the Jets win. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
If you happened to be the coach of the Winnipeg Jets, it was a pretty good evening, too. After falling behind Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0, the Jets battled back to win 4-2.
With the victory, the Jets improved to 2-1-1 and after last Saturday’s horrible opener (a 4-1 loss to Ottawa), head coach Claude Noel’s hockey step has now taken three giants steps forward.
“This was a huge step for us,” Noel said. “But we would like to keep things in balance. We took some big steps in feeling good about ourselves in the way we play. We fell behind, didn’t abandon the game plan and just kept working hard. We won’t be separating our shoulders patting ourselves on the back, but I think we have a good reason to feel good about ourselves.”
Things didn’t look good for the Jets early in the game. Crosby opened the scoring at 4:26 of the first period and then added a second goal at 14:58. With the score 2-0 after the first period and with Pittsburgh carrying the play, things didn’t look good for the Jets.
But the Jets didn’t panic. Evander Kane scored at 1:10 of the second and then Dustin Byfuglien made it 2-2 at 13:35.
The with 2:06 remaining in the period, Bryan Little created a turnover at the blueline and carried the puck deep into Pittsburgh’s zone. He found Ladd wide open in the slot fired a pass right onto Ladd’s stick and ripped it home to give the Jets a 3-2 lead.
Blake Wheeler scored an empty net goal at 18:51 of the third period and that was it. The Jets had beaten a team that many believe will have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
“Our leadership group, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Buff, people like that really stepped up for us,” said Noel. “Yeah, I really thought the leadership group really did a wonderful job in handling the game. I mean, it’s a fairly daunting task when you’re down 2-0 after 20 minutes. It’s not easy to fall behind 2-0 and come back. It’s something we want to do every night, I can tell you that.”
The players themselves were quite pleased with their effort, but no one was about to book the Stanley Cup parade.
“After the first period there was this sort of pissed-off feeling that we hadn’t played the way we wanted to and there needed to be adjustments,” said Ladd, the team’s captain and the game’s first star. “We reacted the right way.”
As sluggish as the Jets were in the first period, they were sensational in the second period. With an aggressive forecheck and a commitment to smart, controlled defensive play, the Jets pressured the Pens in the attacking zone and never wasted any effort skating around in their own end. The Penguins took plenty of shots, but few reached the target as the Jets – forwards and defesemen – blocked shot after shot. It was an almost perfect period.
The third period was not only worth the price of admission, but worth the price of season’s tickets. It was an outstanding 20 minutes of hockey, played at a high skill level at a burning pace. The Penguins had only nine shots on goal as the Jets blocked shot after shot.
“Falling behind 2-0 and trying to come back against a team that is that good is not easy,” said Noel. “It’s hard to score against any team, but it’s very, very difficult to score against a team like Pittsburgh. It’s not the ideal way to go but I think we showed continued growth tonight. I think our players have a reason to feel good about themselves.”