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.