Friday's game against the Washington Capitals wasn't a must win for the Winnipeg Jets, but a loss would have seriously hurt their playoff chances. With four points separating the two teams in the Eastern Conference, not only was a win needed, but a win in regulation.
Andrew Ladd opened the scoring with his 24th goal of the season and 18th at home. Blake Wheeler drew an assist on the goal to extend his point streak to six games. However, before in-house announcer - Jay Richardson of TSN 1290 - could even finish the goal call, the Capitals' Brooks Laich had tied the game up. Only 22 seconds went by between goals.
Nik Antropov scored for the second straight game, giving him four goals in his last seven games, to regain the lead for the Jets with under four minutes left in the second. With Alex Ovechkin all over him, Antropov chipped a Tim Stapleton pass into the top of the net. Then the Jets had a chance for a real turning with a two-man advantage for 1:39, but great penalty killing by the Caps kept Winnipeg from scoring. Goalie Tomas Vokoun and defenceman Karl Alzner were terrific on the kill. And just as the power play ended, Toby Enstrom was called for holding, meaning the Caps would start the third period with the man advantage.
Mathieu Perreault scored 27 seconds into the third to tie the game again and the battle continued. Midway through the third, Dustin Byfuglien used his size and strength on a four-on-four to score what would be the winner for the Jets in a 3-2 game. With the goal and assist, Byfuglien is now in sole possession of third place in the NHL in scoring by defencemen. He has five goals and 21 points in his last 16 games.
Byfuglien was actually shaken up in the third, missing a shift, but coach Claude Noel said Byfuglien will be fine for Sunday's game against Carolina (TSN Jets, TSN 1290) in his post-game news conference. Zach Bogosian may also be ready for Sunday's game.
Ladd now has eight goals, six assists, and 14 points in his last 12 games. Wheeler now has 26 points in his last 20 games, and 52 points in his last 51 games. With the assist Kane now has points in 12 of his last 13 games (9-9-18).
There was plenty of adversity for the Jets in this one: having the Caps score 22 seconds after Ladd opened the scoring, not scoring on the long five-on-three, having Washington score on their power-play early in the third to tie the game, and having to kill a Ron Hainsey penalty late in the third to preserve the win. Jim Slater and Bryan Little were once again key on the face-offs.
Said Little after the game: "I like our competitiveness. This is a great opportunity for us to make the playoffs which would be a first for a lot of us."
Ondre Pavelec added: "The fans were crazy. Great to be a part of it, but we have another big game Sunday."
And Blake Wheeler: "We stayed confident. Through all the things that happened in the game, no one doubted we were going to win. We understand how bad the fans want us to make the playoffs and they understand how bad we want it as well."
Andrew Ladd: "Don't have time to look at what we have done, practice Saturday and get ready for Sunday."
Coach Noel said after the game: "The game was all it was made out to be. We had the better scoring chances, battled adversity and won. We played well. Too many turnovers (13) in the first period but we got better. We did a good job on Ovechkin, especially Grant Clitsome. These are the types of games we need to get ready for playoffs. It was a good learning game for our young guys."
The Jets were physical on Ovechkin every chance they had.
So after an emotional win the worry is about a let-down Sunday. "We will not take them lightly," continued Noel. "The emotional level may not be there, but we'll discuss that Saturday. We have to get the pace up in the game."
So the Jets are now just two points back of Washington for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Caps are in Chicago on Sunday, Detroit on Monday, Philadelphia on Thursday and then back home to the Jets on Friday. Winnipeg is home to Carolina on Sunday, in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Washington on Friday and Nashville on Saturday.