Yesterday I told you what seven key factors the Jets had to do during the next 21 games to make themselves a playoff contender. Well last night they took the first big step with a commanding 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and they did it by doing all the small things right.
The first thing they did was get the first goal and they got it early. Not only is that important in any home game to get the crowd going but was even more important to avoid the 1-3-1 trap of Tampa and make them come after you.
The shifts got shorter and the play got faster, the Jets were firing on all cylinders and played their most complete game of the year. Claude Noel stated in his post game address that we finally saw their A-game and the bar has now been set. The biggest reason we saw the A-game was energy and the Jets had it all night long.
When Tampa scored to make it 3-1, it took Andrew Ladd and his Jets a minute and a half to reply with a goal of their own to take momentum back and regain control of the game. This is the same team that a few weeks ago gave up not one, but two 4 goal leads in the same game. Even after Stamkos made it 5-2 the Jets stood firm and closed out the game playing mostly in the Lightning end for the final part of the game. It might be easier to close out a 3 goal lead than a 1 goal lead, but this is a big step for the Jets to be able to close out the tighter games.
Big Buff finally showed us what he’s capable of, and Buff, that’s what I’m buffing talking about man! He made smart pinches, he played smart defence and he scored. He had an assist and he was a plus one on the game. If he can play that way every game, the Jets will have every opportunity to win games. While hopefully it can continue, he’s still learning how Noel and company want him to play, so there are sure to be falters along the way. But at least now we have seen what he’s capable of doing in a Jets uniform.
I found it absolutely ridiculous that fans were calling for Noel’s head after the Florida loss. I’d be surprised to hear anyone say it after last nights game. He shuffled the lines and got solid play out of all four lines. Jaffray brought some stability to a fourth line that had seen McArdle play upwards of five minutes a game. Against Tampa, the whole line played just over 8 minutes and while the likes of Wheeler is certainly capable of more, his play of late makes that a smart fit. Shifting Antropov to centre Ladd worked out and Little, Kane and Burmistrov looked like the line I predicted them to be before the season started.
The last key factor was special teams, the Jets still took more penalties in this game than Tampa Bay did, but the Jets killed off all six powerplays including a 5 on 3 for over a minute. While they scored on their only real powerplay opportunity, though officially they were 1 for 2 with Stamkos in the box for the final 45 seconds of the game. In previous games they would have let in a couple of power play goals and had they done that here this game would have been a totally different story.
The bottom line was this was a game that the Jets needed to happen soon. For it to come during the first game of this 21 game stretch is more important for this team than I can put into words. If this team goes on to make the playoffs you can bet this was the turning point that made the team believe it was possible and gave the fans something to truly reward and cheer about.
Lets hope they can follow it up with another strong performance Thursday night when Ovie comes to town.