Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Even Noel visibly pumped as Jets keep the magic rolling

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Claude NOEL, so often impassive on the bench and hiding the emotions that bubble beneath the surface, walked down the tunnel pumping his fist in the immediate afterglow of victory.

Randy Jones stood on the ice slapping the gloves of his teammates as they stepped off the ice.

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Dustin Byfuglien, named first star for his winning goal and swallow-his-pain performance, took his curtain call with the panache we've come to expect from him taking one bow and then another with the playoff smirk he so often wears.

Jets fans finally gave one more push of noise in a decibel-defying punch at the roof of the MTS Centre.

And hope lives a little longer in Winnipeg.

The odds remain against them but a magical season that saw the Jets reborn just refuses to die.

With Friday night's spill your drink, jump for joy 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals, the Jets pulled to within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With 11 games to go the Jets are in striking distance and while there remains a strong case for why they're not quite a playoff team, there is also a rope to cling and squeeze for a few more days.

The Jets are attempting to pull themselves along that rope that leads to the post-season and there are many obstacles to bypass this win on Friday was a major one.

Trailing the eighth-place Caps by four points heading into the action, the Jets faced near certain playoff death with a loss and a resulting six-point deficit.

But a win and the Jets would still have reason to hope and fight as the lights begin to dim on this magical season that saw Winnipeg's NHL hockey club once again skate before its people.

With so much to play for, many of the Jets were overcome by the moment and found the stage a little daunting. But three veterans, Byfuglien, captain Andrew Ladd and the oft-beseiged Nik Antropov reveled in the moment and played panic-free hockey when bullets were flying in a patternless mish-mash.

Ladd scored first to pull the crowd into the game. Antropov later when the Jets seemed about to lose the plot. Finally, Byfuglien after the Caps had twice fought back, took his stick and buried the Caps and their will once and for all on this night.

Noel has described his team's push for more hockey as a playoff series against the entire league. Each night it's a new opponent as the Jets fight both time and their own inexperience in this pressurized environment. Momentum is back with Winnipeg, however, after two home wins. Sunday, they'll face a staggering Carolina Hurricanes club.

The win gives the Jets more hope but doesn't relieve them of the weight that grows with each day. There is so little room for error and, like we said, the situation has become improbable.

But folks around here have heard that before. They heard it for 15 years while they waited for their team to come back despite voice after voice saying it couldn't be.

Can't happen. Won't happen. Never happen.

Tell it to someone who will listen. Right now Winnipeg can't hear you. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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