WINNIPEG — You can haul out the fancy stats, primarily a Corsi 5-on-5 that read 77 per cent for Winnipeg and 23 per cent for Anaheim at the end of regulation.
Or you can lean on that trusty ol’ eye test, which clearly didn’t differ for old-school Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle.
“They had the puck more than we did,” opined Carlyle, never your spreadsheet type of hockey man. “We were very, very fortunate to get out of this game with one point. Simple as that. Our goaltender stole us a point here tonight.
“I can’t overstate,” he would later add, after a 3-2 Jets overtime win, “how lucky we feel that we did get the point.”
In a game as territorially lopsided as this reporter can recall, the Ducks hung around and hung around in Winnipeg, solely on the strength of a fabulous, 39-save performance by goalie John Gibson.
The shots were 17-4 for Winnipeg after 20 minutes. The Zamboni men flooded both ends of the rink anyhow, out of kindness. After 40 minutes, the Ducks had six even-strength shots on goal. They never had more than six in a single period, of any stripe.
“You spend so much time in your zone you get tired and can’t really be physical and stop their guy,” said veteran Ducks defender Francois Beauchemin. “You’re mostly circling, containing them, trying to keep them on the outside. (Gibson) just stole that point for us.”
Against a Ducks team that lost Ryan Getzlaf (flu) just before warmups, Winnipeg controlled the puck like a snake charmer, wheeling around the offensive zone for the entire evening, peppering Gibson with vulcanized rubber.
“You play an entire game in the offensive zone, it’s hard to get frustrated,” said Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler, whose two assists moved him into a tie for the league lead with 64, alongside the Flyers’ Claude Giroux. “Tip your cap to (Gibson), he played well. And they pack the house pretty good. We couldn’t get in there and get a couple of better looks.”
Patrik Laine, who became a surprise participant after taking that shot off the leg Tuesday, was kept off the scoreboard. But head coach Paul Maurice liked his game.
“Really, really good. I’m going to fire a couple shots off his ankle tomorrow in practice,” he joked. “It will be my shot, so it won’t really hurt him.”
It’s time to have a few laughs here in Winnipeg, the town that winning hockey forgot about for long enough. This patient, patient rebuild has suddenly blossomed, with a pair of sub-23-year-old 28-goal men in Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor — who scored his second consecutive overtime winner Friday — as well as the teenaged Laine, who has 43 tucks this season.
This is one of Canada’s two entries in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and we’d go so far as to say this is the one with the biggest upside. They grabbed a decent, experienced Anaheim team Friday and rag-dolled them.
“Look at the chances we had tonight. We probably could have scored another eight,” said Ehlers, not bragging even a bit. “But that’s what we’re getting to right now. We’re getting to playoff-type hockey now. Those are the games you need to go out and win – when they’re not going in.”
And so we reach the next hurdle for the Jets — playoff success.
They met the 100-point threshold Friday in game No. 74. Only three NHL clubs are better than that.
“If someone said you’d have 100 points, would you take that?” Maurice was asked.
“Yeah, you’d take that. You’d be pleased with it,” he said, a rare chance to look back on some success in this blur of a stretch run. “There’s not really a place for us to reflect, we’re in the middle of the season.”
They’ve won games various ways, as any good team must do to get to triple figures in the points column. But Friday’s game was something else altogether, complete domination that required an extra 3:15 of three-on-three hockey before the second point was claimed.
It’s “whatever it takes” time for these Jets. And boy, do they look ready for the challenge.
“The last two weeks we’ve played playoff-type hockey,” Ehlers said. “It’s exciting, these tight, tough, hard-hitting games. You may not get a lot, but you’ve got to score on the chances you get. It’s exciting.”