WASHINGTON, D.C. — As pivotal moments go, this one has the potential to change a lot of outlooks.
A game that looked lost after 57 minutes changed on a pair of power-play goals from the suddenly surging Winnipeg Jets, who rallied to defeat the Washington Capitals with two goals late in regulation time and then two more in the shootout, a 3-2 final at stunned Verizon Center on Thursday night.
Instead of falling six points back of the Southeast Division-leading Capitals, the Jets today are just three back of that top rung in their division. The Caps and Florida, winners Thursday night over L.A., share the top at 61 points, with Winnipeg at 58 after winning four of the last six.
"I think it’s good that you’re down 2-0 and you come back," said Jets coach Claude Noel, who had goals from Evander Kane at 17:45 and Dustin Byfuglien at 17:57 of the third period. "I don’t know that our team would be completely satisfied with the way we played for the 60 minutes. Which is the way you need to play.
"The way we played in the first, we were lucky to get out of it 0-0. Their chances came off our lack of composure and turnovers.
"Having said that, we battled back and I think our players felt good about it, especially after we got the first one."
The began as a chess match of defensive systems and turned into a wild third period with seven power plays.
The Caps cashed two of theirs, with goals by Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin to grab a two-goal lead by 12:30 of the final frame.
But when Roman Hamrlik and Brooks Laich were sent to the penalty box in short order, Noel pulled goalie Ondrej Pavelec and used the six-on-three advantage to get Kane’s rebound goal, his first in 12 games.
A few seconds later, with a power play still in effect, Byfuglien brought the puck to centre and fired a hard, long shot into the Caps zone. The blast clipped the stick of Washington defenceman Karl Alzner and eluded goalie Tomas Vokoun, who was moving the wrong way and in just 12 seconds, the Jets were back on even terms.
Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little scored shootout goals to offset Ovechkin’s and the Jets had suddenly evened their extra-time record this season to 6-6.
Lady Luck certainly played a part in the outcome, something the Jets can easily claim they haven’t had given all their trouble scoring goals lately.
"It’s what a team always needs, good luck and some bounces," Byfuglien said. "I thought we’ve worked hard lately and haven’t really got a nice bounce. We got one tonight."
Pavelec, who made 32 saves through the 65 minutes, plus two more in the shootout, endorsed the smile of luck on Thursday.
"We need those goals," he said. "We drove to the net, stayed in front of the net and we got the rebound there (on Kane’s goal). We need those bounces. We have been struggling a little bit to score goals."
Little said he liked his goalie a whole lot on Thursday.
"I don’t think we really deserved to be in it because they outplayed us and Pav had our back," Little said. "We stayed with it and had a pretty good third period, kept coming and got that good bounce.
"It’s great to see when the team battles back like that and gets a win."
Kane, who just returned to the lineup on Tuesday, endorsed Pavelec as well.
"He’s been playing like that all year," said Kane, who now leads the team with 19 goals. "He’s probably been one of our best players if not our best player."
Kane was also relieved to have the personal goal monkey of his back.
"I was overdue and as a team, it was nice to get two goals," he said. "Hopefully we’ll put it in the net a little more."
It won’t take long to find out. The Jets have a Saturday afternoon date with the Penguins in Pittsburgh and Noel said it will tell plenty.
"We’ve got to put things in perspective," the coach said after the win. "We’ll see. There’s another big game for us."
It was an important night for the Jets and their result. The two points pulled them to within three of the division lead, now shared by both Washington and Florida at 61 points. The Jets are also closer to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Their 58 points are just four back of the Toronto Maple Leafs this morning.
A game that looked all but lost was snatched from the fire in the final 2:15 of regulation time. After Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin tallied on the power play for the home team, Winnipeg finally forced in a power-play goal — albeit six on three with the goalie pulled — by Evander Kane and then 12 seconds later on a great bit of luck. That was Dustin Byfuglien’s power-play shot from the neutral zone that nicked the stick of Caps’ Karl Alzner and found the net to tie it. From there, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little scored in the shootout to give the Jets a pair of points.
Lots of candidates but when Kane scored, breaking a personal 11-game drought, even though it was still a 2-1 deficit, there was a sense that even with only a little time left, the Jets were playing their best period of the night and might still have a shot.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The same lineup will try to produce a similar winning result tonight at Verizon Center when the Winnipeg Jets set their sights on the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals.
Puck drop is just after 6 p.m. (TSN Jets, TSN 1290).
The Jets enter the game off a nail-biting 2-1 home win over Toronto on Tuesday night.
They played that contest without creative forward Kyle Wellwood, felled by the flu, and will again tonight.
Eric Fehr will again take Wellwood’s place on a line with Nik Antropov and Evander Kane.
"We’re not great (health wise) but that happened last game as well," Jets coach Claude Noel said this morning. "We have a little of the flu bug going and we’re hoping that Evander is better in his second game back."
Noel said this morning he’s hoping to see more from Fehr in this opportunity. The Winkler product, traded to the Jets by the Caps last summer, has scored just one goal in 30 games this season.
"I don’t know," Noel said. "I’m hoping he has enthusiasm in the game. I’m hoping he wants some form of redemption or something. I’d like to see him create a little bit more offensively, get his shot off. We haven’t seen too much of that and that’s something we need to see more of."
Jets captain Andrew Ladd and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien have also been battling the flu bug this week, though both played through it on Tuesday.
Tonight, the Jets will also be without the services of forward Tim Stapleton again. Stapleton will miss a ninth straight game tonight with a lower-body injury and he remains on the injured reserved list, though he took the game-day morning skate today.
Noel indicated this morning that after today, Stapleton will be day-to-day, hinting that a roster move may be coming to keep the team at the maximum 23 skaters.
It could also mean Stapleton will play Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Tonight, the Jets face the Caps, who lead them by four points in the standings, 60-56.
Washington ascended back to the top spot in the division with a 4-0 win over Florida on Tuesday, a game in which Alex Ovechkin scored his first two goals since returning from a three-game suspension.
"It’s a huge game, divisional game," said Jets winger Tanner Glass. "It feels every game is a huge game, the biggest game of the year for us and tonight’s no different.
"Ovechkin’s hot. We’ll have to be good against him. He’s a powerful player with some power back in his game."
The Jets are buoyed after allowing high-powered Toronto just 18 shots on goal on Tuesday night.
"If we’re going to win games, we’ve got to limit the other team’s offensive chances because we haven’t been scoring goals, as everyone knows," Glass said.
1- Alex Ovechkin, Caps. Gone from league’s biggest pouter to again its dominant player this week.
2- Ondrej Pavelec, Jets. Couldn’t stop Ovechkin all night but was superb in this one.
3- Dustin Byfuglien, Jets. Played 28 minutes and was a major asset, especially in the third.