But no one could have predicted the flurry of activity on the scoreboard.
In a season chock-full of theatrical moments, this one had it all. And unfortunately for the Winnipeg Jets,the result was not nearly as entertaining.
After surrendering three goals in the second period, the Jets rallied back from a 4-1 deficit, only to lose 5-4.
The game-winning goal was scored with 63 seconds left on a long shot from the neutral zone.
With the loss, the Jets fall to 33-22-12.
“It hurts. There’s no other way to put it,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd said.
“You battle back and tie the game – it’s a tough one. At the same time, we put ourselves in that hole. We’ve got to find a way to get over and move forward. … We play Florida in a couple days, so our focus has to shift to them.”
Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Steve Ott, Jori Lehtera and Barret Jackman scored for the Blues, while Michael Frolik, Ladd, Lee Stempniak and Blake Wheeler had the goals for the Jets.
Michael Hutchinson, who was making his seventh straight start, was pulled after allowing four goals on eight shots.
The Jets opened the scoring at 8:50 as Michael Frolik recorded his 16th of the season, extending his career-high point streak to seven straight games. Capitalizing on a bit of a broken play in the slot, Frolik corralled the loose puck before firing a shot five-hole on Brian Elliott. Ladd tallied the lone helper. The captain has seven points in his last seven games and is currently on pace to set a new career-high in points.
With 15 games to play, Frolik is now only nine points off his career-high of 45, set in the 2008-09 season with the Florida Panthers.
The Blues brought the game back on level terms with 5:40 to play in the opening period. With Tyler Myers off serving the extra infraction (holding) as a result of a scuffle with Alexander Steen, Schwartz rifled a shot past Hutchinson a minute and 27 seconds into the power-play.
The 22-year-old is now second in team scoring with 23 goals on the year.
The Blues nearly took the lead late as a fumble behind the Jets’ net resulted in a glorious chance for Lehtera. Teeing it up from the far hash, Lehtera’s ripper hit square on the post, keeping it a 1-1 game after one period of play.
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 6-4 through 20 minutes of action, but the mood soon turned sour.
The Blues took a 2-1 lead on their first shot of the second period 31 seconds in. After the Jets had multiple chances to clear the zone but couldn’t, Tarasenko found a seam short side, sending a deflected shot past Hutchinson for the go-ahead goal.
Moments later, fans were treated to the heavyweight bout many had been waiting for. Anthony Peluso went toe-to-toe with the 6-foot-1, 224-pound Ryan Reaves in a spirited tilt that lasted for well over a minute. A draw was declared and more than 19,000 cheered wildly in support of the two dog-tired combatants.
The Blues went over nine minutes between shots, but they certainly made their second – and third – one count.
Ott made it a 3-1 game at 10:08 as the Blues capitalized on an offensive zone turnover. The veteran made no mistake, pinning a shot upstairs for his third of the year. Sixty-one seconds later, Lehtera sunk a tap-in, extending the lead and chasing Hutchinson from the game.
Ondrej Pavelec finished the night for the second time in three games, making 19 saves on 20 shots in a little more than 28 minutes of work.
But the Jets weren’t done. Eleven seconds after Ladd gave the Jets a bit of life with a power-play goal at 1:34, it was a brand new ball game. Engineering an odd-man rush off the ensuing faceoff, Stempniak whistled a shot bar-down on Elliott to make it a 4-3 game, netting his 10th of the year and first as a Jet.
Pavelec came up with an enormous save off Carl Gunnarsson on a Blues power-play midway through, preserving the one-goal deficit with the swift right pad. By any measure of athleticism and timeliness, it couldn’t have been any bigger.
“It’s hard. That’s so hard coming in, in the middle of a game,” Wheeler said. “He made some big saves for us to have a chance to tie the game. We need to rally around him. We don’t tie the game without him. It’s a crazy game. Stuff happens.”
Wheeler scored shorthanded with 5:28 to play to pull the visitors even, 4-4. Teeing one up from the top of the circle, No. 26 blasted a shot over Eilliott’s right shoulder for the emotional equalizer.
“That’s hockey,” Wheeler said. “We didn’t worry about the score; we wanted to go out and get back to our game. They outplayed us in the first two periods, but it was an opportunity for us to build some momentum going into Florida, regardless of what the score ended up being.
"It was a great effort by our team in the third period.”
It was all Jets, until Jackman’s shot from the neutral zone sealed a 5-4 victory for the Blues.
“I’m proud of our effort, how we battled back and didn’t quit,” Ladd said. It shows a lot about our group. We’ll keep fighting.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com