ST. LOUIS — Whether it was a dishonest batch of pucks, or some kind of vulcanized chicanery through two one-goal losses, the Winnipeg Jets felt like they hadn’t had a fair shake from the great Creator of pucks.
"Typically in this game, the puck doesn’t lie," explained captain Blake Wheeler.
And by that he means…?
"It means that if you do the right things — and do them over and over and over again — and even if you’re snake-bit or bounces aren’t going your way, you keep that faith and keep on it… The thing’s shaped weird. It’s going to bounce your way once in a while."
The frozen rondelle was indeed kinder to the Jets in a 6-3, series-preserving win at St. Louis Sunday night. Winnipeg played a level of hockey that is familiar to the brand that took them to the Conference Final a year ago, and for one night at least, it was much, much more than the St. Louis Blues could handle.
"We’ve liked a big bulk of our series so far, so that was a positive coming into tonight," Wheeler said. "We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, or pull an ‘A’ game out of the bag where we’d been playing terrible first two games. It was more of a mental thing we had to overcome than a physical thing.
"We came into this expecting it to go the distance. We’re fighting tooth and nail to make that happen."
Oh boy, is this a series now.
On a night where the Pittsburgh Penguins came home a desperate club, where Tampa Bay rolled into Columbus with their playoff lives in the balance, only the Jets had the necessary chutzpah to retrieve this series from an opponent who had jumped them at home, winning two straight in Manitoba. With goals from all four lines, and one from defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets poured six pucks past young Jordan Binnington in a 6-3 win.
The score, to these eyes, was not indicative of the balance of play — the Jets could have won by four or five. Meanwhile, the Calder Trophy candidate Binnington allowed more than four goals for the first time in his National Hockey League career.
"It could have been 4-0 in the first period," Blues coach Craig Berube said of his goalie. "He played a pretty good game."
Facing the next best thing to elimination, Winnipeg was the proverbial gorilla let out of his cage. They somehow managed to trail 1-0 after 20 minutes despite dominating the period, but simply kept the train rolling down the tracks, riding it to a 3-1 lead into the second intermission. The Blues scored twice in the third but never got a sniff of momentum from either goal, with the Jets answering rapidly each time, quelling any sense of belief in the Blues that they were going to get any love in this game.
"We’re building every shift, every game throughout the series," said Kyle Connor, who had two Jets goals. "We’re getting closer to our game and it’s pretty dangerous.
"It’s a start. It’s one of many here to go. It’s something to build on."
While Winnipeg will be supremely confident after this game, don’t expect it to leave much of a dent in the St. Louis psyche. The Blues were the best team in the West in the season’s second half for a reason. Losing one game to a desperate team in the playoffs won’t make them go away.
"No, no panic in this room," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. "We’re up 2-1 for a reason. We’ll look hard in the mirror. We know that that wasn’t us tonight. So take tomorrow and get ready for Tuesday."
"We can’t play like this," added winger Vladimir Tarasenko. "It’s not like we played in the first two games. We need to refocus here. There’s no panic here. Nobody said it was going to be easy. We’ll be ready for our next game and come out to win the game."
And so will the Jets. That’s why this series just became must-watch TV.
I’d leave your Tuesday evening open.