Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Contender, or pretender?

Another stinker raises doubts

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The recent evidence is gruesome, every last shred of it. It's rancid, it's graphic and it's a very negative indictment.

So discuss amongst yourselves the big picture vs. the small picture, Winnipeg Jets' fans:

Is this confounding club that rallied to beat a heavyweight like the Boston Bruins last Tuesday but was out-scored 10-1 in back-to-back home losses to the Washington Capitals -- 4-0 Thursday and 6-1 Friday night -- still legitimate or a first-place hockey team in name only?

Now 16-14-2, the Jets, somewhat remarkably, remain atop the NHL's Southeast Division with 34 points -- two ahead of the idle Carolina Hurricanes, who do have two games in hand. All that despite dropping two straight to a Capitals squad that entered this doubleheader this close to having their season flat-line.

And now their pulse is surging.

Asked about the last two games, Jet centre Olli Jokinen was succinct:

"Awful," he began. "We've got to give (the Capitals) credit a little bit with the way they play, they play smart hockey. But it's a pretty bad feeling when your own fans are booing you out of the game. We're disappointed with the way we played here the last couple of days. We've got to try to stay positive."

First period

The Jets show some jump at the start but, handcuffed by an ineffective power-play that whiffed on two chances with the game scoreless, soon find themselves down two-zip by period end as Mike Ribeiro sets up Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer with perfect feeds. It marked the fifth-straight game Winnipeg had surrendered the first goal and it showed as shoulders sagged and the life was sucked out of the building.

Second period

The Caps jump ahead 3-zilcho when Claude Noel yanks Ondrej Pavelec for Al Montoya but the change does little as Alex Ovechkin scores his first of two on the first shot after the switch. The Jets are booed, the results of the Kiss Cam are booed and the natives, clearly restless, seem to bemoan the long wait for the 50-50 draw.

"We have to figure it out," said Pavelec. "If we want to be in playoffs we have to figure out. I believe we know how to play and we can beat the tough teams. Now we have to stick together and get through this."

Third period

Three more for the Caps with Dustin Byuglien breaking up the beating momentarily with the lone Jets goal.

After the buzzer

Noel, who has been an open wound over the last couple of days, suggested his players get away from it all by taking in a flick. Good idea, that.

"We're not going to emotionally hit the floor with depression here," he said. "It's a bump in the road and it's how we deal with this. We have to focus on Sunday and move forward from there.

"I still like our team and we're still at the top of our division. We're still a team that I believe will make the playoffs and that's what we're going with. The world is not going to end tomorrow... I don't think." Twitter: @WFPEdTait


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2013 C1

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