It was quite the weekend in Winnipeg. Two enthralling games, both of which ended in victories for the hometown Winnipeg Jets, have the fanbase charged up and giddy about the season.
It all started on Friday night as Sidney Crosby paid his first visit to the Manitoba capital as a professional. The last time Crosby was in Winnipeg was in December of 2004 as a member of the Canadian Junior team that was headed to nearby Grand Forks, North Dakota for the World Junior Hockey Championships. The training camp plus a couple of pre-tournament games were held at the MTS Centre, with Crosby receiving most of the attention amongst Winnipeg hockey fans. At that time, Crosby was a hero to the fans. Fast forward to January 2013, and the mood was altered somewhat.
While Crosby wasn’t has heckled as much as other superstars that have invaded enemy territory, (see Alexander Ovechkin, Shane Doan and Ryan Miller for star players who were mercilessly jeered by the rowdy Jets fans) Crosby did hear some catcalls from the fans. A faint chant of “Mario’s Pool Boy” was heard during the game. (Very clever if I do say so myself) And yes, Crosby was booed for most of the game. Especially after he scored two early goals to give the Pittsburgh Penguins an early lead. But it wasn’t as forceful as it could have been. The booing was soon overshadowed by the strong play of the Jets in the last two periods. Three goals in the middle frame, followed by a terrific shut-down performance in the third, gave the Jets a 4-2 victory. It was wonderful to see the Jets show some defensive determination and moxie against a high-powered Penguin offence.
Two nights later, the New York Islanders paid their first visit of the season to the MTS Centre. The big fear coming into this game was complacency. Too many times last season after a big win, the Jets would come out flat and lose to an inferior opponent. The Jets didn’t want to fall into the same trap Toronto did. The Leafs scored an impressive victory over Pittsburgh last Wednesday, but then proceeded to have a major meltdown in the third period against the Islanders, losing the game 7-4. It looked like the Jets would follow that trend.
Going into the third period, the Jets were clinging to a 2-1 lead. The Islanders changed that in a hurry, scoring three goals in the first 10 minutes, to take a 4-2 lead. The Jets would have lost a game like this last season. But this is a different Jets team. To be honest, I don’t know what changed from last year to this season, but something clicked inside this hockey team. A rocket from Dustin Byfuglien, followed by a spectacular individual effort from Alexander Burmistrov, sent the game to overtime. Evander Kane won it overtime, jamming home a rebound off a Olli Jokinen shot, to give the Jets two valuable points. The MTS Centre went wild as the Jets celebrated a three game winning streak, and points in four straight. There have been rumblings that the fans haven’t been as noisy this season as they were last year. But those reports were quelled after this weekend. It was pandemonium on Portage Avenue all weekend long, as Jets fans made sure they made their voices heard.
Now this is all fine and dandy, but the work never ends. A tricky three game road trip is on the schedule for the Jets this week. The trip starts in Montreal on Tuesday night, followed by back-to-back games in the Sunshine State against Florida and Tampa Bay.
Yes, there is many reasons to be excited in Winnipeg. But there is still plenty of hockey to be played. The Jets need to stay consistent and focused, if they are to qualify for the playoffs. With the Eastern Conference promising to be very tight this season, every point is valuable. The Jets must take note.
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