BUFFALO — Cheaters never win.
At least, not these kind of cheaters.
"What happens when you get a little bit tired, a back-to-back situation, you have a tendency to start cheating a little bit and you take shortcuts and a lot of times you’re not going to win when that happens," said Winnipeg Jets veteran centre Olli Jokinen.
Tuesday was included in a lot of times. The Jets, playing on a second straight night made the bottom-feeding Buffalo Sabres look like playoff contenders, coughing up a 2-0 lead and dropping a 4-2 decision at First Niagara Center.
It was the fourth time in four tries this year the Jets have come up short on the back end of a back-to-back. They defeated Columbus 3-2 on Monday to come home from this short trip 1-1, and 15-16-5 overall.
"We got outworked," Jokinen added. "They got the confidence in the first period. They probably felt they should have been up three, four goals and without our goalie, that would be the case.
"We were sloppy overall, not enough jump. We lost a lot of battles."
Buffalo put 19 shots at Ondrej Pavelec in the first, but couldn’t crack him, they scored four times on 12 shots in the final two frames, but after Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele had scored a pair of goals 36 seconds apart to stake the visitors to a shaky 2-0 lead.
"We gave up 19 shots in the first," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "I think we thought the opponent would just fold up and play and obviously that wasn’t the case. This league is too good to show up and play. We’re not good enough to play that way.
"If it wasn’t for Pavelec in the first, we’d have been right out of it there."
Dead last but not dead
The Sabres are last overall with a mark of 8-23-3 but didn’t give up on Tuesday.
Their spunk paid off with a Steve Ott goal midway through the second, then Marcus Foligno’s fourth goal of the season just 50 seconds into the third.
The Jets, who have scored the most in the third period so far this season — 37 goals — mustered nothing and Matt Moulson and Matt Ellis added the next two to help the Sabres win going away.
"Stay on the gas, don’t let them have any breathing room," Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien said of the third-period plan. "But right away they got it."
Energy or anchor?
Winnipeg’s fourth line on Tuesday featured the first NHL game for recall Eric O’Dell. O’Dell centred John Albert and Eric Tangradi and the trio played seven shifts with varying results.
"I thought that line gave us some good energy and they got stuck in our zone in the second period for a length of time but I thought for the most part, they skated well and gave us good energy, the put pressure on the forecheck," said coach Claude Noel.
"They weren’t bad. Then the third period, they take a penalty (O’Dell’s), it ends up in our net and we’re down 3-2. So how do you analyze that? That’s what happens sometimes."
To add insult to injury, the fourth line was on the ice for Ellis’s insurance goal with 6:32 to go.
How to go about it? This is the $64-million question for the enigmatic Jets.
"We have to find a way," Byfuglien said. "That’s sticking together and not trying to lay off on the lead. We just have to keep going, doing what we do to get ourselves ahead. It’s just a matter of competing, battling for each other, doing the right things."
Added Jokinen: "You have to be focused, first minute or 59th minute. Each guy has a responsibility out there and you have to try to follow the plan... that’s mental toughness. Good teams are able to do that for 60 minutes. It’s not like we’re not capable of doing it."
Noel hinted better habits are a must.
"To me, when you defend the right way, check the right way, at the end of the day, that ends up rewarding you," he said. "And you can’t play in spurts, regardless of the opponents."