WINNIPEG - In an unspeakably big, character-defining 48-hour stretch of an otherwise long and arduous 82-game grind, the Winnipeg Jets were not only up to the challenge, they conquered it.
They were intense. Focused. Physical.
Twenty-four hours after silencing the Blues with a clinical 3-0 victory, Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets did the same to another divisional opponent, pummelling the Colorado Avalanche 6-1 to pull within two points of a playoff spot.
The Jets got contributions from six different goal-scorers - Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Ben Chiarot, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba - while Hellebuyck made 22 saves, and was 15.4 seconds away from a second straight shutout, but a Gabriel Landeskog goal spoiled the party.
Still, it was a big two points for the Jets and as Hellebuyck said post-game, that's all that matters no matter no crummy the feeling was for him personally afterward.
Wheeler (1G, 2A), Ehlers (1G, 2A), Laine (1G, 1A) and Dustin Byfuglien (2A) led the way offensively for the Jets, who improved to 30-30-6.
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
"I think it was a carry-over from yesterday," said the captain, who tallied six points in the back-to-back contests. "We were excited about this game after a huge one last night. We showed up and played well last night, so you do that and then you have an opportunity to repeat it less than 24 hours later, you tend to find that your team plays pretty well on nights like that."
Laine got things rolling with a scorcher from the right circle only 4:21 in. The rookie took a neutral-ice feed from Mathieu Perreault, entered the zone and curled off the Colorado D, opening a lane and putting himself in a prime shooting position. The ensuing slap shot went oft the stick of Matt Duchene and rocketed high over the shoulder of Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard.
Video: COL@WPG: Laine roofs puck home to open the scoring
Laine is now only two back of Sidney Crosby for the league lead in goals.
The Jets opened up a two-goal lead at 9:45, using the new power play alignment they engineered over the course of the week at practice. Wheeler, who scored from the top of the umbrella in Friday's win over the Blues, took it off the half wall this time, firing a beautiful just under the bar on the goalie's glove side.
"There's always good energy in our building but there was a real good buzz in here tonight. You could feel it right down the bench," said Head Coach Paul Maurice.
"We started right and real quick. We were right on top of our game and jumped on them a little bit."
The Jets, it appeared, were only just getting warmed up. They struck again only 16 seconds later as the kids went to work off the rush, orchestrating a sweet, three-way passing play that began with Ehlers going coast-to-coast down the near boards. When the pass came, Laine froze Pickard with a ridiculous fake shot before dishing to Scheifele, who made no mistake at the far post.
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
The Jets outshot the Avalanche 14-3 in a completely one-sided opening period.
It was more of the same in the second.
"The way we played yesterday is the way we've got to play every single game - simple, hard and for all 60 minutes," Ehlers said. "We've got to go out there and fight for each other. We wanted to take that (mentality) into tonight's game no matter what. We did that really well."
Chiarot's first of the season put the Jets up by four at 7:03, as he found himself in alone and showed great patience after getting a beautiful feed from Ehlers, outwaiting the goaltender and lifting a backhander upstairs.
The Jets were showing all kinds of creativity in the offensive zone, with another batch of elite stick work leading to the 5-0 goal at 9:05. This time it was Ehlers on the receiving end, tucking home his 21st of the year off a tremendous backdoor pass by the captain.
Video: COL@WPG: Ehlers beats Pickard from the doorstep
That was the end of the night for Pickard, who was replaced by Jeremy Smith between the pipes.
"Our second period was at least as good as our first," Maurice added. "We didn't score as many, but it was solid. Their push came but we handled it very well."
Trouba rounded out the scoring for Winnipeg late in the third when he gathered up his own rebound off the end glass and stuffed it short side after the Avalanche were caught on a bad line change.
Landeskog broke the shutout with only a few ticks left on the clock, but that shouldn't take away from what was an otherwise excellent performance by Hellebuyck and the rest of the team.
"After the Minnesota game, I wanted to make sure that not only I knew, but everyone else knew that I am playing the right way," he said. "I'm feeling good about my game. Having back-to-back games like this and with the team playing as good as they are, it just show that we're better than we've shown this year and I think everyone knows it."
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com