Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 03/23/2012 11:22 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 03/23/2012 11:03 PM | Updates
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was a scene straight from a horror flick. Given up for dead after being dropped into a six-foot-deep hole and covered with dirt, a hand shoots up and a beast slowly emerges from the grave.
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the Winnipeg Jets — they may be covered in soil and looking a tad ghoulish, but their pulse is still beating, their playoff dream still alive.
Down 3-0 to the Washington Capitals less than 26 minutes into a game they desperately needed, the Jets rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory that has sent a serious jolt of energy into both their collective morale and their push to a potential playoff spot.
"It shows what we’re made of in this locker-room," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler. "We knew it all along. We went through a tough patch, and so it was good to get the two points tonight."
The win improves the Jets’ record to 35-31-8 and moves them to within four points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, currently shared by the Caps and Buffalo Sabres. The Jets do have a game in hand on both those teams as they head to Nashville for a game today.
And consider this stat, especially given the significance of the game for the Jets: Prior to the dramatic finish, the Caps were 22-0 when leading after two periods, the Jets 0-22-3 when trailing after 40.
The turnaround was sparked by Winnipeg’s fourth line of Tim Stapleton, Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell — all three scored, with Stapleton getting the winner in OT — but also featured some gritty efforts in the second half of the game.
The Jets outshot the Caps 17-2 in the third period and 2-0 in OT as they came in waves against a team playing its second game in as many nights.
"I saw us go into desperation mode," Stapleton said of the third period and extra frame. "We were just pressing and pressing and stuck to the game plan by just throwing shots on net. Machacek was able to get his first... I think he skated faster AFTER the goal, I’ve never seen someone celebrate like that, so I’m happy for him.
"We all want to make the playoffs and we’re going to do everything we can to just try and get in. Obviously we need to get help from other teams, but all we can control right now is getting every point possible and that’s what we did tonight."
Asked if he had ever scored an OT winner, Stapleton quipped: "Last year in Carolina. I don’t score very much so I can remember these things."
There were several key plays that were critical in the Jets' turnaround: a diving block by Mark Stuart, the Maxwell goal that got Winnipeg going and a fight featuring Jim Slater and Brooks Laich that coach Claude Noel pointed to as a boost.
"That’s what really got us going," Noel said. "It really showed the rest of our players, the rest of our team, that we need to battle here. We need to keep going. I thought that was a real statement. If you look after that fight, I think it was really clear that our team was energized from that."
The Jets improved to 12-20-4 on the road and immediately left for Tennessee, knowing they will live to scrap another day.
"We gave up one (point), not ideal, but we got two," Noel said. "Let’s focus on Nashville. We got a win, we feel good about ourselves, and that’s the way we’re going to go forward with it. Is it ideal? No. But we’ve got a lot to be thankful for; we’ve got a lot to be happy about, especially with the way we battled back."
WASHINGTON, D.C. – They will play 82 games when it’s all said and done, just like every other team in the National Hockey League this season.
But it could be argued – and the Winnipeg Jets aren’t disagreeing – that tonight’s match-up against the Washington Capitals (6 p.m., TSN Jets/TSN Sports Radio) may ultimately decide their playoff fate this season.
The Jets trail the Caps by five points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, although Winnipeg has played one less game.
Asked if their season hinges on tonight’s game, captain Andrew Ladd was to the point:
“You gotta think so. If we win, we’re three behind. If we lost we’re seven behind. It kind of puts things in perspective with only a few games left.
“In big games your leaders have to come up big and show the way. We’re aware of that. And our line specifically is going to have a big task tonight of creating offence, but we’ll also see a big line (defensively) as well. It’s more of the same. It’s been the same way for the last month.
“Big games like this are always fun to play in,” added Ladd. “Personally, it’s easy to get up for. It’s fun to have that tension in a game and pressure. I thrive off that. It’s the fun part of the season where you’re battling for something.”
The Jets, at 34-31-8 and with 76 points, trail the Caps by five but also must leap-frog over the Buffalo Sabres, who hold down ninth spot with 80 points. The Sabres are in New York to face the Rangers tonight.
Winnipeg arrived in the U.S. capital after getting spanked 8-4 by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday and have had two days of full practice as part of their preparation. The Caps, meanwhile, lost a 2-1 shootout to the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night.
“They’re going to be coming,” said Jets coach Claude Noel of the the Caps. “They played last night and they played a good game, close to the vest. But it’s not going to be so much about them. For me, it’s going to be about our compete level. We’ve really got to play this thing hard and put it in areas where we can have success. We’ve got to get the job done, however that is, whether this is the road or not at this time of year makes no difference. We’ve got to play this the best we can. We’ve got to lay it on the line, there’s no other secret recipe… it’s just put your game out there and let’s get going. There should be no reason not to: we’re rested, we sat here for a couple of days, there should be no excuses as to why we can’t put our best game out there.”
The Jets will go with Ondrej Pavelec in goal while Randy Jones will suit up on the blueline in place of Grant Clitsome. Dustin Byfuglien did not participate in Friday’s game-day skate, but is expected to play.
“It’s an important game. All games are important at this time,” said Pavelec. “All we can do is be aware of who we play against and play the right way and see what happens. They played last night and hopefully they’re going to be tired from that and we can take advantage. We have to play a road game and bounce back after the Pittsburgh game and make some points. I didn’t see the standings, but I think they are five points ahead of us. It’s going to be a big difference, either three points or seven points. We all know it’s going to be an important game for us.
We have to win.”
Updated on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 6:40 PM CDT: First goal
6:49 PM: End of first period update
7:09 PM: Adds second goal
7:17 PM: Adds third goal
7:26 PM: Adds Jets' first two goals
7:48 PM: Updates to end of second period
8:10 PM: Adds photo
8:34 PM: Updates with tie game
8:36 PM: Minor edits
8:51 PM: Updates with Jets winning
8:54 PM: Updated story
8:55 PM: Adds Nashville game Saturday
11:03 PM: Final game story
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