WINNIPEG — Hands up who predicted at the beginning of the season that Tuesday night's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets would be a battle between the Central Division's top two teams?
The Jets come into Tuesday's game having picked up points in four consecutive games (3-0-1), including a 3-2 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday, which has propelled them into second place in the ultra-tough Central Division.
The positioning could be temporary as the Jets have 18 points in 17 games while the Minnesota Wild sit just one point back with three games in hand.
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The Jets performance, however, is all the more remarkable considering the team has enough call ups from the farm to be called the Winnipeg Moose. (The Jets AHL affiliate is the Manitoba Moose.)
Over the past two weeks, they have called up forwards Marko Dano, Nic Petan, Andrew Copp and Quinton Howden. On Monday, Chase De Leo was added to the list when rookie forward Kyle Connor was placed on injury reserve with an upper body injury after being slammed into the boards on Sunday.
It's not as if the recruits have only been playing in garbage time, either. Against the Kings, Dano played alongside the league's leading point-getter (Mark Scheifele) and the goal-scorer (Patrik Laine). Petan centred the Jets' No. 2 line and spent some time on the second powerplay unit while Copp has proven to be an effective penalty-killer.
“When you get brought up you want to play and act like you fit in and you belong in this position,” Petan told the Winnipeg Free Press. “I think, for the most part, the three or four of us who've been up, we've played and held our own pretty good.”
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, beat the NHL's top team on Sunday, a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, handing the bleu, blanc et rouge just their second regulation loss of the season.
The win boosted the Blackhawks record to 11-3-2 for 24 points.
The highlight of the night was Patrick Kane's game-winning goal in the second period, during which he dangled past Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry deep in the offensive zone, fought off a world-class hook from captain Max Pacioretty and — while flying through the air — flipped the puck over Al Montoya.
You might have seen the goal on every hockey highlight package across North America a few million times ever since.
“It was so beautiful,” forward Marian Hossa marveled to the Chicago Tribune. “He showed his quick hands. It was just beautiful, he went through the two guys and he saw the goalie coming to him, too, and just a quick flip to the top shelf. Not many guys can do that.”
Coach Joel Quenneville was also getting out his pom-poms.
“That had the wow factor all over it. All of a sudden (he) makes a play with a guy draped all over him and makes a great shot falling on the ice. Spectacular goal by a great player, fun to watch.”
Hossa has been no slouch himself. He has scored in eight of his last nine games and his nine goals puts him third in the NHL. Laine leads all goal scorers with 11.