NEW YORK – The Winnipeg Jets fell eight points short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012 in no small part due to their dismal road record. They went 14-22-5 away from MTS Centre, the worst mark of any team in the Eastern Conference.
Through the first 19 games of the 2012-13 regular season, the Jets are showing they have learned their lessons from a year ago.
Evander Kane and Olli Jokinen scored twice, as the Jets survived a furious late push from the New York Rangers to win 4-3 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, capping a five-game road trip with a 4-1-0 mark.
It was the Jets' third straight road victory, a feat they had not accomplished since moving to Winnipeg prior to the start of the 2011-12 season.
"We got off to good starts in getting the first goal in alot of the games," said Kane, who has five goals in four games and nine this season. "We rode close games out in the third period for the most part, so I think it was a good experience for our group to come out and have a positive road trip."
"It's a big win for us and we finish the road trip 4-1, so that's great," said Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (29 saves) before throwing some cold water on the proceedings. "But we have to come home and start to win again at home. We built some confidence here, hopefully, and it wasn't a situation for us after those losses at home. It was a great road trip for us."
Before the Jets embarked on their week-long trek along the Eastern seaboard that left them 6-4-1 on the road, they stumbled to three straight losses at home. They righted the ship quickly and after beating the Rangers and now sit in a three-way tie for first in the Southeast Division with 19 points, although the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning hold the tiebreaker edge.
"It was a good road trip for us, but we're a .500 hockey team right now," Jokinen said. "We can't get too high, we can't get too low. There's a new challenge in a couple days."
After a scoreless first period against the Rangers, who were missing forwards Rick Nash (undisclosed) and Arron Asham (back) and defensemen Ryan McDonagh (head) and Michael Del Zotto (lower-body), the Jets struck for a pair of goals 1:07 apart to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
Jokinen's goal to make it 1-0 was the result of some tenacious pressure after a fantastic individual effort by defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to bring the puck to the net. The Rangers never recovered, and Jokinen was able to stash home his fourth of the season with Rangers goaltender Lundqvist out of position after a pass from behind the net by Kane.
Kane made it 2-0 with a shot that was about as close toperfect as it gets. He snapped a shot from the right circle that beat Lundqvist high to the blocker side with the puck hitting the spot where the post and crossbar meet, rattling around the bar in the back of the net, and out the other side.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan answered with a goal 2:26 later – his fifth of the season – but New York never completely recovered from those rapid-fire goals by the Jets.
Jokinen, who had four goals in 26 games as a Ranger in 2010 after he was acquired at the trade deadline, scored his second of the game to send the Jets into the second intermission ahead 3-1.
Despite giving up three goals and allowing 17 shots in the second period, the Rangers somehow didn't think they played all that terribly.
"I didn't think our second period was that awful," Callahan said. "We gave up a couple of goals and defensively we need to be better, but we controlled some play there. We had opportunities ourselves. It was a little more back and forth than we would have liked, but the whole game wasn't that bad."
The Rangers made things interesting in the third period when Taylor Pyatt redirected a point shot by Anton Stralman that eluded Pavelec to make it 3-2 with 10:43 remaining in regulation. But before Pyatt's fourth of the season and first goal in 14 games could be announced to the sell-out crowd, Kane pushed the lead back to two by wristing a shot off the rush that squeezed through Lundqvist.
Afterward, Lundqvist admitted it was one he should have stopped.
"I've gone over it a couple time and I've tried to find out a reason why I picked it up late," Lundqvist said. "It doesn't matter. I need to stop it. For whatever reason, it squeezed through my pad and my glove. It's a tough one. It really is."
It became even tougher when Stralman pulled the Rangers to within a goal 53 seconds later, making Kane's second goal the winner. The Rangers put on intense pressure over the final nine minutes, but Pavelec stood tall, stopping the final nine shots he faced after Stralman's goal.
"Pavelec has been good for us," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "It seems like he's in a real good groove, especially when the game gets on the line because we've been in some close games here. He's really shut the door and has done a real nice job and we really that in this type of season."
The loss was the Rangers' fourth in a row – all with Nash out of the lineup – and fifth in six games. They sit in 11th place in the East, one point behind three teams tied for eighth with at least a game in hand on all of them.
Tortorella, like any coach, doesn't want to use injuries as an excuse, but feels his team will be OK once his key players get healthy.
"I think that if we get some people back and we have that type of effort, some of the things we do correctly, I think we'll get on our way," Tortorella said. "We can say all the things we want to say – we just have to try to stay with it, come to work tomorrow, see what our health is and go about our business."