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Jets Hang Around, Win in Tampa, Finish Road Trip 4-2

TAMPA, Fla. — Late Saturday night, Mark Scheifele, who had been virtually invisible for 61 minutes, tapped in a perfect pass from Blake Wheeler at 1:04 of overtime to give the Winnipeg Jets a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a perfect ending to an almost perfect road trip. The Jets went 4-2 on their six-game sojourn through the Eastern Conference and while they lost to the Flyers and Panthers, they were good enough to sweep the New York/New Jersey corridor and then win the final game against a Lightning team that was the best club they faced on the trip.

Jets get a great game from Blake Wheeler.

Jets get a great game from Blake Wheeler (26).

It’s true, before this trip started, the Lightning were the only team with a winning record. It was really the only team that should have given the Jets a test. This night, however, the Jets dominated the first period — they should have been a lot farther ahead than 1-0 after 20 minutes — played pretty well in the second period and then got the necessary help they needed from goalie Al Montoya in the third to send the game into overtime.

In the first minute of overtime, Montoya was saved by a post, and then the Jets took the puck back down the ice. Wheeler was left alone along the left boards and he feathered a perfect pass to Scheifele on the doorstep and suddenly the Jets were 4-2 on the six-game swing and 14-13-4 on the season.

The Jets didn’t play a perfect hockey game — they owned the first period and outshot Tampa 15-5 but were often sloppy and lethargic after that — but they hung in there against a team that was 17-10-1 going in. It might have been one of Winnipeg’s best road efforts of the season.

The fact it also took place in the final game of a long two-week trek says a lot about the team’s character. Remember when the Red Wings came into MTS Centre to play the final game of a four-game road swing, a trip in which the Wings had won three straight? They were awful. Winnipeg might have fallen into that trap, but they didn’t.

Wheeler was stellar, scoring the game’s first goal and adding an assist on Scheifele’s winner while Montoya made 28 saves and was named the game’s first star. Dustin Byfuglien was solid, Jacob Trouba was a force, Toby Enstrom was better than he’d been in a week and Andrew Ladd had four shots on goal and was engaged for most of the night.

Bryan Little, who also invisible for much of this one, lost a faceoff that cost the Jets a goal with 0.02 seconds left in the second period. Still, the team was rewarded for playing hard in the final game of a long, gruelling trek through the wonky East.

 

Mark Stuart handled P.J. Crombeen.

Mark Stuart handled P.J. Crombeen.

However, this is hard it is in the West. Despite the win, the Jets are still sixth in the Central and 11th in the West. They’ve also played more games than most of the teams ahead of them.

Saturday night’s game here in the Sunny South proved one important thing: The Winnipeg Jets have to be at their best every night because in the Western Conference, you simply can’t afford to lose. Ever

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