NEW YORK — Panic button, meet fist.
The Winnipeg Jets — so determined to change some inglorious history that came north with them from Atlanta and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 — couldn’t have picked a worse time for a stumble-turned-tumble. With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching and the regular season winding down, the Jets have now lost three straight following Monday’s 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
Winnipeg is now 18-17-2 but — courtesy Montreal’s 4-1 win over Carolina Monday — remain atop the Southeast Division with 38 points, four ahead of the Hurricanes. But the rest of the conference is closing: the Rangers' victory now gives them 37 points and the New York Islanders, whom the Jets meet today, also won Monday to get to 37.
"We’ve lost three in a row and we have to stop it right now because we could be in trouble," said goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "It’s not going to be easy, but we have to find a way."
Ugly start, solid finish for the Jets, who give up a goal to Derek Stepan just 19 seconds in but answer with two of their own by Nik Antropov and Zach Bogosian.
The Jets have now surrendered the first goal in nine of their last 10 games, including the last four.
This is where the game went south for the Jets. Leading 2-1, they have a glorious opportunity to deliver a KO on the power-play, including a brief two-man advantage, but instead surrender a shorty to Ryan Callahan.
"You can’t continue down the power-play road because it’s going to end up catching up to us," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "We’ve known that all year. You can’t come down to the crunch time and expect that you get five or six power plays and you don’t capitalize on any of them. It’s going to come back and hurt you."
"That changed the dynamic of the game," added defenceman Ron Hainsey. "We had the opportunity to go up 3-1 and instead it’s 2-2 off a great individual play there and the rest of the period was certainly not good for us. They got the majority of shots toward our net for the next 30 minutes."
The proof? Winnipeg had just 17 shots in the final two periods, the Rangers had 28 — three of which found the back of the net.
The downward spiral continues. The Jets generate little and when Stepan scores his second, not long after Bogosian blocked a shot with his foot and was hobbled, there was little counter from the visitors.
"We’ve just got to play a better three-period game," said Bogosian. "We show spurts of it, but we’ve got to make sure we’re playing the full three periods and a big part of that is being physical."
Telling stat: Hits — New York 28, Winnipeg 20.
After The Buzzer
There’s little time to mope around for the Jets, who are right back at it tonight against the Islanders.
"We know we control our destiny," said Noel. "We know the situation is in our hands and we want to go in the front door of the playoffs, not the back door."