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Jets down Caps in critical contest

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A four-on-four situation against the talent-laden Washington Capitals deep into a tie game — not what most Winnipeg Jets’ fans were hoping to see.

But the Jets turned it into their winning edge Friday night, as they sent their human missile to the net and the MTS Centre exploded with noise.

Dustin Byfuglien crashed the Caps’ goal and Evander Kane’s pass arrived at just the right time for the redirection, keying a 3-2 Jets victory that keeps the prize on the table — an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"It was a long shift for Buff; Buff likes to get out there and make a difference," said Winnipeg coach Claude Noel, his team now within two points of the Caps, 78-76, each with 11 games to play. "And he was. He was resting in the crease... recovering in the crease. Evander Kane made a heck of a play.

"He fed Buff there and what can you say. Buff wants to have impact on games and does. It was really good."

Byfuglien appeared to labour at times in the game, appearing banged up to some extent. But he still played 22 minutes and 53 seconds, more than any other player in the game, and led them all with nine shots on goal.

He wasn’t available for comment after the game — getting treatment, the Jets said — but there was lots to say in the locker-room.

"When they won the Stanley Cup in Chicago, he was one of their best players," said teammate Blake Wheeler, who helped create the winning conditions when he and Washington’s Troy Brouwer were sent to the penalty box for roughing. "When the chips were down, you want guys like Buff on your team.

"He seems to find a different level, a different level of excitement, a different level of compete. You get a guy like that, big as he is and talented as he is with his mind in the right place, you can’t stop him and you saw that tonight."

Unstoppable described the winning play to a tee.

Caps defencemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner were unable to handle the four-on-four play, Alzner saying to Washington reporters after that game that he was "trying to lift Byfuglien’s stick. It felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. I couldn’t get it off the ice."

The 37th sellout of the season saw the Jets twice take the lead and fail to hold it.

"It almost set itself up for a game that might put you in trouble, especially early in the third period," Noel said, pointing to the Caps’ 2-2 goal on the power play by Mathieu Perreault.

It erased Nik Antropov’s go-ahead marker late in the second and the angst was compounded by the Jets squandering a 98-second five-on-three power play.

"I thought our scoring chances for and against were fairly good but having said that, it was everything we could do to win the game," Noel added. "We got some timely goals and it was a heck of a game."

The race now continues.

The Caps are off to Chicago, while the Jets entertain Carolina, both on Sunday.

"One thing will be clear, and that’s we will not take them lightly," Noel said about the Canes. "And that’s a really hard thing to manage."

Next Friday, Winnipeg and Washington will cross paths again, this time at Verizon Center.

Of late, the Jets have done a timely job of cooling off hot opponents in the MTS Centre, where they are 23-10-4.

The Caps came in here having won four in a row, while Buffalo and Dallas have also departing Winnipeg with impressive runs ended.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Game preview

WINNIPEG -- It's almost here -- the biggest game of the Winnipeg Jets' season and this time it sounds less like a broken record.

The Jets continue their pursuit of an Eastern Conference playoff spot tonight against the Washington Capitals, the team that currently holds the eighth and final berth on their side of the Stanley Cup tournament.

The Caps have 78 points, the Jets 74, and that's sure to have the MTS Centre wound up tonight (7:30 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290).

"We know it's a big game," said Winnipeg's leading goal scorer, Evander Kane. "Every game is a big game for us. I feel like I'm repeating myself.

"It's a four-point game; we'll either be six points behind Washington or two points behind them. We know that and these are games that define your team and we're going to see what we're made of."

Each team has 12 games remaining in the regular season so for the team that's trailing the race, the Jets, living to fight another day has a dwindling shelf life.

The pressure that creates, though, isn't bothering the Jets, coach Claude Noel said.

"My only thought is to just enjoy the game," Noel said. "This is why you play. We've been in this mode for a while. It's not like we've targeted this game because we've been focused on the task at hand."

The young team's past is not full of positives from which to draw. Last year's push for the playoffs was barely a shove.

"I think last year ... we got run out of the rink there," Kane said, commenting on a reference made by Blake Wheeler earlier this week to a game the Atlanta Thrashers lost 8-2 to Buffalo at a critical time. "We just didn't perform the way we needed to down the stretch to have a strong playoff push. We're obviously in a lot better position this time around.

"We're right there and these are big games."

The Jets skated without defenceman Dustin Byfuglien this morning, but he'll be a player tonight, Noel said.

They will play again tonight without defenceman Zach Bogosian, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury. He has played just once in the last 12 games.

Bogosian may return Sunday, when Carolina is here.

"I'm not going tonight but it feels good to be back with the boys," Bogosian said after this morning's game-day skate. "I'm going to shoot for Sunday (when Carolina visits).

"Any time you see your team battling for a playoff spot and you're sitting up in the pressbox, it's never fun. But when you're hurt, sometimes you can be a liability out there so I think it's best for the team I wasn't playing."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Friday, March 16, 2012 at 7:57 PM CDT: Adds first two goals

8:12 PM: Adds first period summary

9:00 PM: Adds third goal

9:09 PM: Adds second period summary

9:45 PM: Adds fifth goal

10:07 PM: Adds final score

11:44 PM: Adds writethrough with quotes

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