Published November 20, 2014
The Winnipeg Jets tried to make themselves as comfortable as they could for their only appearance in Minnesota this season.
Their thousands of enthusiastic fans who made the trip, too, made it sound a little bit like a home game.
Evander Kane had two goals in regulation and the winner in the fourth round of a shootout, giving the Jets to a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
"I thought it was a really good test of character for us," Jets coach Claude Noel said, adding: "I thought the guys were in it to win it."
The Jets were outshot 14-6 in the third period by a sputtering Wild team frantic for a win, but goalie Chris Mason was steady and stopped three of four tries in the shootout.
"I thought he was really good when he had to be," Noel said. "He's a veteran guy. He's got great focus."
This was a key victory for the Jets and their outside chance at the playoffs. In 10th place in the Eastern Conference, Winnipeg will play its next eight games at home.
Kane has four goals in five games for the Jets since returning from injury and 21 for the season. He upstaged Devin Setoguchi, who had his first two-goal game for the Wild, who scored on their first shot of each period.
Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped two of the first three shots he saw in the shootout, but he fell to 3-5 this season and 15-29 in his career in those situations. The Wild ended their streak of four regulation losses in a row, but they fell to 5-16-6 in their last 27 games.
Mikko Koivu gave the Wild the lead early in the third period, but Alexander Burmistrov scored on a rebound off an end-board ricochet for the Jets exactly 2 minutes later. The Wild fell to 13-10-4 at home, the third-worst record in the NHL.
"If you don't win the game it's really not satisfying," said Setoguchi, who has four goals in four games since Koivu returned from a shoulder injury. "But it's nice that our line was able to put some in. Just missed opportunities again made us come up a little short."
The Wild have only nine goals in their last six games, going 0-4-2, and Koivu, Setoguchi and Dany Heatley has seven of those scores. Second line center Matt Cullen has no goals in his last 14 games.
"It sits on all of us," said defenseman Nick Schultz, who came the closest to scoring in overtime with a wrist shot that went just wide left.
Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien played a game-high 27 minutes and had two assists, giving him six points in his last four games.
"That extra point was huge," Kane said, adding: "This gives us a lot of energy moving forward."
St. Paul is the closest NHL city to Winnipeg, and this revived regional rivalry is on track to become a meaningful one now that Manitoba has a team again. The Jets won a physical, tight game 2-1 north of the border Dec. 13, a game that coincidentally sent the Wild into this downward spiral they've yet to escape. They had the best record in the NHL when they took the ice in Winnipeg that night.
The "Go, Jets, go!" yell rang out before the faceoff from the thousands of Winnipeg fans in attendance. Wearing their red, white and blue garb — featuring logos of both the old team and the new one — they sang along with "O Canada" and cheered each Jets goal almost as loudly as the Wild fans applauded the home team.
"We've had unbelievable support all year, and we appreciate it," Mason said.
The wide-open action on the ice down the stretch matched the intensity in the seats, too, particularly after Burmistrov tied it. Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck tried to fight Winnipeg's Jim Slater at one point, but they were separated by the officials. So Darroll Powe of the Wild and Tanner Glass of the Jets dropped the gloves instead.
Earlier, the Wild's Warren Peters tried to elbow the burly Byfuglien, who delivered a forearm shiver and knocked him back on the ice. Byfuglien, who has a 70-pound edge on Peters, was called for roughing. Peters got an unsportsmanlike conduct call.
Whenever the NHL Players Association signs off on the plan, realignment will move Winnipeg and Minnesota into the same grouping, increasing their annual matchups.
"I think it's going to heat up. There's no question about that. It's not going to go any less emotional than it already is," Noel said.
NOTES: Byfuglien (Roseau), Blake Wheeler (Plymouth) and Brad Stuart (Rochester) are the three Minnesotans on the Jets' roster. ... Koivu scored his first goal since Dec. 29. He missed eight games and played in nine without scoring since then. ... The Wild fell to 10-9-5 when scoring first, the worst such record in the NHL. ... When Kane scored his second goal, the scrolling advertisement on the digital ribbon board around the arena was showing a plug for TravelManitoba.com at the moment. ... Said Yeo: "I know we didn't win tonight, but there are a lot of guys that played like winners."
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