THE bigger the game, the juicier the accompanying subplots.
Such is the case for the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals, who meet tonight at the MTS Centre in a critical Southeast Division/Eastern Conference tilt.
At an optional skate Thursday, a great deal of buzz was centred around news from the U.S. capital that Alex Ovechkin left practice after a collision with teammate Mike Knuble.
The Washington Post reported Ovechkin and Knuble collided about 10 minutes into practice and the Capitals' superstar lay prone on the ice for about two minutes "pressing his gloved hands against his helmet as trainers attended to him."
Ovechkin did not return to the ice and about an hour after the collision medical staff were still evaluating him. Afterward, Caps head coach Dale Hunter said Ovechkin would travel with the team to Winnipeg and suit up against the Jets. Hunter said Ovechkin did not suffer a head injury, but had "lost his wind."
"He's fine," Hunter said. "It was two big guys colliding at full speed. Something real bad could have happened. They got crossed in their signals. They were supposed to be in the other lane."
Added Knuble: "We had the whole ice to work together and we occupied the same space. That was a lot of beef coming together there at full speed, you know? When people don't see each other, it gets pretty dangerous. There's the whole ice there. You can't run into each other. It's just stupid. It's more annoying than anything. It's embarrassing that someone gets hurt."
The Jets, 10th in the Eastern Conference, trail the eighth-place Capitals by four points in the race for the final playoff spot. The Caps are one point behind Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers. The Jets and Caps meet again next Friday in Washington.
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Through 70 games last season, the Atlanta Thrashers had 70 points, just four less than these Jets. And the Thrashers were still involved in the playoff hunt until a crushing 8-2 loss to Buffalo in Game 72 on March 19, 2011, a loss that put them seven points off the playoff line with 10 games to go.
Contrary to some black-and-white opinions, the final edition of the Thrashers did not have a great first half then fall off a cliff at mid-season, never to be heard from again.
Atlanta was just four points off a playoff spot Feb. 28.
Unlike these Jets, the Thrashers never corrected themselves in the second half, winning just seven of 27 games from Dec. 20 until it was too late to rally. Atlanta also lost four of the last five to finally drop under .500 for the season, finishing at 80 points and 12th place in the conference, 13 points out of the eventual playoff spot.
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"We just didn't have a lot of resolve in the second," said Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan, whose team fell behind 5-0 to the Jets during Wednesday's middle period.
Without resolve, the Stars used what energy they had in other ways.
In the final three minutes of a 5-2 loss, for instance, Dallas forward Adam Burrish chose an off-side call to skate 60 feet to give Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec a piece of his mind.
Burrish was upset because earlier in the game, he believed Pavelec deliberately cut him off near the goal crease.
Of course, beaking the opponents' goalie usually incites something, and the Jets didn't take kindly to it.
To make matters worse, Burrish decided to toss Tanner Glass's glove into the crowd on his way to the penalty box, touching off another melee when Glass didn't approve.
Burrish was given a game misconduct for throwing equipment outside the playing surface. He could face discipline from the NHL.
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Defenceman Zach Bogosian was among the handful of Jets who took part in Thursday's skate, but his status for the Caps game is still day-to-day.