Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dreamers don't quit

Dynamite third period shows heart, clips Caps

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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," said Stapleton 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," said Noel. "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."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2012 C1

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