WASHINGTON -- Trying to protect a one-goal lead in the National Hockey League can be a dangerous game, a little like juggling chainsaws... blindfolded.
Sometimes, it's a nifty little trick. And on other occasions it's a gruesome and bloody scene that has everyone covering their eyes in horror.
The Winnipeg Jets had that confirmed Thursday night in the U.S. capital, blowing a 2-1 lead after two periods with an iffy third and, in the process, fell 4-2 to the Washington Capitals.
The loss was just the third against nine wins under new head coach Paul Maurice and represents an opportunity lost -- the Vancouver Canucks, whom the Jets are chasing for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, fell 5-2 in Montreal. Winnipeg, at 28-26-5, remains two points back of the Canucks who fell to 27-22-9 and also have the Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators in hot pursuit.
"We had a tough start, bounced back and had a lead going into the third," began Olli Jokinen. "They pushed hard and got goals there in the third.
"We've been good (with leads). We've been pretty responsible and confident at the same time with playing with the lead. But they got their bounces. They have a lot of skill up there and they were able to push us back."
ICKY... DECENT... LOUSY
The Jets had served up a decent, not spectacular, first 40 minutes. Guilty of running around a bit early, Bryan Little managed to tie the game with seven minutes left in the first after Troy Brouweer opened the scoring, and then took the lead in the second on Dustin Byfuglien's 13th -- a marvellous passing play that included linemates Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi.
But Winnipeg was outshot 12-6 in the third period, generated very little offensively and was guilty of some sloppy work in their own zone against a Capitals team that had been shut out by the New York Islanders on Tuesday and had won just three of their last 10 games.
The Caps were better and also benefited from some of the puck luck that had been in the Jets' favour in their recent three-game win streak, now snapped.
"I think they just did a little bit to us what we've been doing to teams," said Maurice of the third period. "They weathered that second-period storm, we were pretty darn good. If you want to say breaks or bounces, we'll always look at what we can do better. There were some pucks off the boards, we had people where they were supposed to be and just couldn't get a handle on it. We were proud of our effort through two and we just couldn't make it three."
"We got back to playing (in the third) the way we did in the first," added Little. "We kind of stopped moving our feet and there were a couple of breakdowns in our own end. That's all they really needed is to wait for us to make a mistake and they were all over it."
THE SPECIAL-TEAMS REPORT
Winnipeg was able to stifle one of the NHL's deadliest power-plays, limiting the Caps to just eight shots and zero goals on four power-play attempts. But, after not having a single man advantage in Tuesday's 2-1 win over Carolina, enjoyed just one power-play themselves in Washington.
Interestingly, with the Jets on an 0-10 run over the last five games with the man advantage, a tweak might see Michael Frolik -- one of the NHL's best penalty killers -- now also see some time on the power-play.
"Our penalty kill has just been outstanding," Maurice said. "The only downside is the eight minutes that you spend killing those are hard minutes. They're not passive minutes. To get to Washington's power play, you're spending an awful lot of energy with some key guys in our group. Four (minors) isn't a huge number to kill, but it's still eight solid minutes of pushing your best and it may have taken a bit of a toll on us. We've had one power play in our last 120 minutes. If we ever get a chance to get on the power play again, he'll probably get out there."
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