Not tonight. Not ever.
“We lost four straight games to end last season and we hadn’t won anything yet in training camp, so I think we were getting a little frustrated around here.”
After a disappointing first 40 minutes, Wheeler stepped up, scoring the first of four before the turning the tide for good with six minutes left in a 3-1 game.
In a blink of an eye, the gloves were off and the dance was on. Senators forward Bobby Ryan was at the other end hanging on, at first an observant to No. 26’s furiously discarded mitts.
Pre-season or not, this mattered to Wheeler and the Jets.
“We’re a proud group — a group with a lot of passion and a group that plays the game the right way. The game in (Minnesota), regardless of who was out there, ticked some guys off.”
With a spur in their stride, the Jets rallied back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in overtime Tuesday at MTS Centre.
Wheeler, Drew Stafford, Andrew Ladd and Mark Scheifele scored, while Ondrej Pavelec made 22 saves.
The Jets cut the deficit to 3-1, 26 seconds into the third as Wheeler deflected a shot past Hammond, just as a power-play expired. Stafford made it a one-goal game at the 15-minute mark, deftly converting the feed from Nikolaj Ehlers, who orchestrated the play with a speedy rush up the near side. Then, with the extra-attacker on the final minute, the captain redirected Tyler Myers’ point shot through the wickets of the goalie, sending the game to overtime.
In the extra session, Scheifele raced in on his off wing, used defenceman Erik Karlsson as a screen, and rifled a shot five-hole for the winning goal at 2:00.
Milan Michalek, Zack Smith Jean-Gabriel Pageau had the goals for Ottawa. Craig Anderson stopped all 17 shots he faced in a little under 30 minutes of work, while Andrew Hammond was victimized for four goals on 12 shots in the remaining half he played.
The Senators opened the scoring at 11:01 as Milan Michalek fired a shot far side, beating Pavelec under the arm for his first of the pre-season.
The Jets roared back, recording six of the next eight shots, including a point-blank chance from Adam Lowry immediately after, but Senators goalie Craig Anderson stood tall, turning aside all 10 in the period.
On the cusp of earning a job, the crafty Nic Petan was terrific in the opening frame, making the most of his three-and-a-half minutes of ice time. Ever elusive, the diminutive forward proved size is no issue, handling larger opponents with ease, evading checks, dishing his own and creating chances deep in enemy territory.
He was later rewarded with a drawn penalty late in the third period after bulling his way to the net. The Jets scored on that, their fifth man-advantage of the night.
“When you have a guy like Nic there, you can use him to create more offence and put a bit more risk in the game. ... I thought he played a really smart game. He can make some things happen with the puck and there’s a time for that, for sure,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said.
Petan got a chance on the top line late in the game when Wheeler served his double minor for roughing.
“I thought it went well. I tried to get some space and I drove the net a few times,” he said.
Asked if he thinks he helped his case to make the team tonight: “I don’t want to say [one way or another],” he laughed. “The main thing is we got our first win tonight.”
Back-to-back penalties early in the second period gave the Jets an extended 5-on-3, but the minute and 46 second-long power-play failed to produce – a costly misstep, as the visitors extended the lead upon expiration.
Smith was credited with the goal after his deflected shot in tight fluttered top shelf on Pavelec.
Pavelec kept his team in it with a couple of stunners afterward, including a big-time jab on a Curtis Lazar breakaway with under seven to play.
But the Sens kept coming. Undetected in the blue paint, Pageau on the tap in put the Jets in a 3-0 hole.
The home side had a 23-20 shot advantage through two periods, but couldn’t solve the Senators’ goaltending tandem.
That is, until the third.
“We weren’t moving at all in the first two periods,” Maurice said. “The things that we’re good at, our pace was way off. Then we started skating a bit better. It’s exhibition, but the room got a little sour about the way things were going.
“We’re starting training camp now for the big club.”
The Jets are back in action Thursday night against the Calgary Flames.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com