GLENDALE, Ariz. – Call it a temporary reprieve if you must, maybe even a chance to exhale.
In this high stakes game of survival, all this really represents for the Winnipeg Jets is a first step – the importance of which is yet to be determined over the coming weeks.
An opportunity to not lose any more ground in this Western Conference race where there are still four teams to try and hurdle over.
No, this won’t be viewed as anything close to the template the Jets will need to deliver for the majority of these final 29 games during the regular season.
But this 5-3 victory over the last-place Arizona Coyotes on Sunday afternoon did include some important traits within it to draw on.
For a team that’s been top heavy in far too many games, there were offensive contributions from three of the four lines.
For a defence that hasn’t produced a ton of offence, there was Nathan Beaulieu getting involved offensively on the Jets’ first two goals, delivering one point shot that was tipped home and another that led to a rebound that restored a lead just 43 seconds after the Coyotes tied up the contest.
For a team that has only turned to its backup goalie to make nine starts and 10 appearances through 53 games, there was Eric Comrie standing tall after allowing a pair of first-period markers.
And for a team that hasn’t made a habit of rallying from deficits after two periods of play, there was a strong push that included three unanswered goals in a game the Jets absolutely had to have to close out this four-game road trip.
“Usually when you have scoring throughout, you’re on the right side of the game,” said Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry. “It’s always a nice bonus. You’re always looking for depth scoring. We talk about it but it’s nice to see it happen and be rewarded for it.”
This afternoon, there was no mistaking who was leading the way.
There was centre Pierre-Luc Dubois showing an incredibly high level of engagement, helping to pull some of his teammates into this fight, chipping in a pair of assists while playing a power forward game that has been prevalent often.
There was sniper Kyle Connor scoring twice to give him 32 goals on the season, which leaves him tied for fourth in the NHL with Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and just five behind league leader Auston Matthews.
There was Evgeny Svechnikov, whose season has featured the highest of the highs in basically becoming not only an NHL regular but also spending time playing with the aforementioned Dubois and Connor while serving as an important complementary piece.
There have also been the lows, which included both healthy scratches, minimal minutes and demotions to the fourth line.
Through it all, Svechnikov tried to maintain his focus and keep a positive attitude, knowing he had more to give when the next chance arose.
Well, after injuries opened that door back up, there was Svechnikov doing his best to get to the hard areas in front of the net, winning board battles and eventually setting up what proved to be the game-winner on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play with Dubois and Connor.
There was Jets captain Blake Wheeler, providing the tying goal early in the third period, setting the stage for the rally.
After what has been a tough go offensively this season for centre Adam Lowry, he also found his mojo again, providing three goals (to get to six on the season) and four points over the past six games.
The secondary scoring that has been so tough to come by has arrived – but it needs to continue and needs to spread its way through the bottom six, though fourth-line centre Dominic Toninato has also done his part recently with two goals and four points during that same span.
Now comes the hard part.
Can the Jets elevate their level of play in a four-game homestand that features meetings with the suddenly rejuvenated Montreal Canadiens, the Dallas Stars (who moved into the second wild card spot on Sunday afternoon), the New York Rangers and the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
There is no real reprieve coming in this block of games, especially given how the Canadiens have been playing since Marty St. Louis took over as head coach.
Where things go from here for the Jets is still very much up in the air.
Other than Andrew Copp likely being ready to return to the lineup on Tuesday night, the Jets are still expected to be without Nikolaj Ehlers (knee) and Cole Perfetti (suspected shoulder injury) for a bit longer.
That means the top two lines are going to need more efforts when they both end up on the scoresheet and that secondary scoring provides the necessary level of support.
“We’re going to need that coming down the stretch,” said Connor. “Yeah, we need that from everybody, but our top players got to be our top players. We’ve got to produce. We’re not where we want to be in the standings, it’s quite the daunting task, but I believe in this group and I think we can get it done.”
After getting a day of rest on Sunday, workhorse goalie Connor Hellebuyck is going to need to stand tall – which is something he’s done often, even if a deeper dive into his underlying numbers is required for some.
To rattle off a winning streak of any length, the Jets are going to need to be better in a number of areas.
The Jets have only won consecutive games twice in 2022 and if they can’t increase that number, those slim playoff hopes will only dwindle.
For the time being, the Jets have found a way to stop the bleeding.
That’s not cause for celebration, though it can’t be completely discounted either.
“I just hope we get on a roll. That’s the big one. Just get on a roll,” said Comrie, who improved to 6-2-1 on the season. “I think we’re playing fine. I think we’re right there. We’re just not quite getting the results. But I think if we keep doing the right things, playing the right way, coaches keep telling us the right stuff, I think we’re going to start to find some more results here and some more success.”
Whether this is simply a glimmer of hope or an opportunity to delay the inevitable is yet to be determined.
What we know for sure is that it definitely improved the mood around a group that’s been searching for answers and trying to get back on track.
“You go through those (losing streaks), you start to question everything,” said Connor, noting it felt like the group has been disconnected at times recently but was more focused on Sunday. “If you go through a stretch like that, you definitely cherish wins more. So we’re going to enjoy this one but we’ve got to remember that feeling, winning and losing.
“We don’t want to be on the other side of that. I think we’re all a pretty competitive group and I think we’re going to rally here and make a good run.”