Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If only the Jets could have matched Noel's defensiveness

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WASHINGTON -- You have to believe it was harsh reality for Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel to admit what his team brought Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals just wasn't good enough.

That for how hard they tried and pushed for an NHL playoff spot, it was so close they could touch it, and so far away because the Washington Capitals were clearly the better team in a 5-3 victory that punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday.

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How else to explain Noel's snarky, confrontational volleys at reporters after the setback leaves the Jets with one more chance to move forward and simply hope for others to help?

"This is the second year you've asked me that question," Noel said, starting off with a bang after being asked to describe the blow of the Tuesday result. "It's got to be the dumbest question in the world. Last year you asked me (at) the New York Islanders how difficult is that loss. Are you serious? Are you serious on that question?

"They played better than us. They scored. They put more pucks to the net. They're more skilled than us. They have good speed. We matched their speed but they can make plays and they do make plays."

The admissions came after the objections and the tantrum.

"We stuck in the game," the coach said. "We got a chance to get back in it and we let it get away. The shift after we made it 2-2 was disheartening. That's a shift you've got to have and it's not like we never covered that 40-whatever games into the season.

"That's just a play that you can't make."

The Jets defended poorly against a two-on-two, the puck eventually going in off untended Niklas Backstrom's skate just 37 seconds after Blake Wheeler had stunned the crowd by tying the game 2-2.

"They continued to put on the pressure, put pucks down," Noel said. "We had breakdowns and those are the plays we make defensively. Please. Look at their second goal, (the pass) from behind then net and then the one off the rush. Geez. Two-on-two off the rush and you can't even contain the guy's stick."

The coach wanted nothing to do with wondering about plays not made, or what might have been if a couple of first-period chances could have gone an inch to the right or an inch forward.

"It's not what-if?" the coach said. "We had a game plan. We played too cute, I'd say. There's no way we were going to be able to match their skill level and to play the way that they play. We had to do some things that, to me, we didn't do. We tried to get it back between periods, to go, but we never got it done."

The Jets were outshot 41-27 and the coach clearly didn't like the number of shots that were passed up.

"It's about goals.," Noel said. "It's about producing. You've got the game 2-2, you've covered up to make it 4-3, the game's still within reach.

"And the decisions you make are what they are."

So now, the final play on Thursday when the Montreal Canadiens visit the MTS Centre. Last chance for points to prolong some hope.

"There's no other choice," Noel said. "The cards are not in our hands. It's clear. Now we have to hope ... we've got to get, out of the Montreal game, got to get above the line. It might be dictated before the Montreal game. We have to at least get in the top eight and after there, the season's got some days. We don't hold the cards anymore."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2013 C2

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