The Winnipeg Jets vowed to not let up, even though they had mathematically been eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race. But mentally getting ready for the game against Florida was not going to be easy, and falling behind 3-0 early in the second made matters even worse.
It was 2-0 after the first when "there were some not nice things said" in the dressing room, but a goal by Tomas Fleischmann 25 seconds into the second made it 3-0 and had fans in the building thinking a first-ever division title was about to happen. That is what was on the line for the Panthers, a win and the Southeast Division and a third place finish was theirs. Kris Versteeg continued his scoring against the Jets with a goal and an assist, giving him seven goals and 10 points in five games played.
The Jets got on the board as Evander Kane scored his 30th of the year, a great down-low cross ice pass from Kane's former junior teammate Spencer Machacek on a two-on-one. (The two won a Memorial Cup together with the Vancouver Giants.) In three years in the NHL, Kane has gone from 14 goals, to 19 goals to 30 goals.
Four minutes later, Zach Bogosian scored his fourth of the year to make it a one-goal game after two periods. At one time in the second, the Panthers were outshooting the Jets 20-6 before the Jets went on a 12-2 shots on goal run. Kane has scored five goals in four games against Florida this season. Machacek has nine points in his last nine games.
Before the third period was four minutes old, the Jets not only tied the game, but took the lead. Andrew Ladd tied it 53 seconds in, and at 3:45, a power play goal by Bryan Little put the Jets in front. As expected, the Panthers then ramped up the pressure and at 16:07, Tomas Kopecky got one by Ondrej Pavelec from a sharp angle and the game was tied. With under 40 seconds left in regulation, the Jets looked for the winner in a wild sequence around the Panthers net, only to have the puck cleared, resulting in a breakaway for Fleischmann with under 20 seconds left. A goal and the celebration is on. But Pavelec wanted no part of that, coming up with a huge save off his fellow Czech countryman.
That sent the game to overtime and 3:12 in, Ladd ended it, taking a drop pass from Blake Wheeler, kicking it up to his stick and sending a low shot past Jose Theodore for the win. It was Ladd's second overtime winner on the trip, ending Friday's game in Carolina as well. Not bad for a guy who started the road trip without a road goal in 16 games. Ladd now has 27 goals, two shy of his career-high of 29 last season.
Seven games ago, the Jets had not won a game this season when trailing going into the third. They have now done it three times, all on the road (Washington, Carolina, Florida). It's also the third straight game the Jets have gone to extra time and are now 6-5 in games that end in overtime. Four of their last seven games have gone to extra time and they have won three.
The Jets' road record now improves to 7-7-1 in the last fifteen road games, another area they are getting better in. They came into the game with the league's worse road power play, but went one-for-two, taking the lead in the third on Little's power play goal.
Ron Hainsey was injured after blocking a shot and will be re-evaluated before the final game of the road trip, against the New York Islanders Thursday (TSN Jets, TSN 1290). If he can't go, expect Mark Flood to come into the lineup. Chris Mason is expected to start. Patrice Cormier, up from St. John's (AHL) played left wing on a line with Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn, playing 12:35.
Coach Claude Noel agreed with the players that "some things were said after the first but we won't repeat them here". Players again said they want to finish strong because they owe it to their great fans to do so. Noel praised his leaders. "The reason you don't quit is because you lead in the room. Games like this speak to our leadership group and our character. Kane's goal got us going. It was a great pass my Machacek and great for Evander to get 30."
The Jets pick up four wins in the six game series against the Panthers.