SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's really quite simple -- the Winnipeg Jets are playing for their fans.
The Jets, already eliminated from the playoff chase, continue to fight for wins on this final road trip of the season and have now collected two wins in three starts and five of six available points including Tuesday's 5-4 overtime dandy over the Florida Panthers.
The Jets trailed 3-0 midway through the second period before coming alive on a smart pass from rookie Spencer Machacek that Evander Kane dumped into the net for his 30th of the season.
Winnipeg caught fire and scored four straight to take a one-goal third period lead at 4-3 before the Panthers, who could have clinched the Southeast Division with a win, forced overtime.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd pounced on a loose puck in overtime and gave the Jets their 37th win of the season.
"We can't quit. This is the NHL and here you play for the logo on the front of the jersey and not for yourself," said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
"We can't quit on our fans. They've been so good to us this year and we know they are watching on TV at home. We want to be good for them on Thursday in Long Island, too. And that last game on Saturday at home in Winnipeg is going to be so special. They have been such a big part of this season. We're disappointed that we're not going to the playoffs and we know they are, too. So we can't let them down in these final games. We have to do it for them."
Jets coach Claude Noel has talked about his team's leadership all season. Playing with fire in meaningless games, says Noel, is another example of his team's character and it all starts with the men in charge of the dressing room.
"It does please me. To me there are a couple of signs and signals and it's because you are led in the room. Guys have pride and they are well led," said Noel. "I think the line of (Bryan) Little, Ladd and (Blake) Wheeler picked up the pace when we needed it. We wanted to get things done. We wanted to play better in the whole game and we didn't start great but we found a way to get it done. I think it speaks volumes not only about the character of all our players but especially our leadership group.
"I like the fact that we're playing to win games. We're not quitting and we're not getting down. We're trying to find ways to get it done. I can't say enough about our leaders."
Ladd says the people in Winnipeg that have bought tickets and jerseys and cable packages to support his team deserve the ultimate effort right to the very end.
"It's one thing to say, but if you don't back it up, especially the leaders in this room, it doesn't mean much. I've liked our response the last couple of games and we have two more to finish strong," said Ladd.
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