Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets slip on Oiler slick

Second-worst team in league catches 'Peg napping

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You can change the design of the logo, the shade of blue on the sweater and swap out the guys wearing them, but some things haven't changed for the Winnipeg Jets, be they the new 2.0 version or the first incarnation:

The Edmonton Oilers still eat these guys for lunch.

The upstart Oil -- not to be confused with those dominant Gretzky-Kurri-Messier-Fuhr-Coffey et al squads of the '80s -- waltzed into Winnipeg Monday night and delivered a big-time blow to the Jets' playoff chances with a 5-3 victory over a flat and uninspired home side.

The loss doesn't officially knock the Jets out of the playoff picture -- Florida, Toronto and Washington were all idle -- but it does sting. Winnipeg is now 30-27-8 and remains two points back of the first-place Panthers in the Southeast Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers are here Thursday for a critical Southeast match-up at the MTS Centre.

Edmonton, meanwhile, improves to 25-31-6, and still sports the second-worst record in the NHL.

"It stings coming off a good homestand so far (now 3-1-2)," said Kyle Wellwood. "I wouldn't say we were looking ahead, but we didn't have our best game. There's reasons you look at it and say why, it could have been the trade deadline and guys feeling comfortable and not giving enough effort."

Now, it's not like Jets coach Claude Noel didn't see this coming. He warned after the morning skate that a game which came just hours after the close of the NHL trade deadline would be hard for the troops to find their focus, especially knowing one of their teammates -- in this case it was Johnny Oduya -- may be shipped out of River City.

Despite that concern it was the Jets, not the Oilers -- who saw Tom Gilbert traded for Nick Schultz, by the way -- who served up a discombobulated effort that was sloppy, mistake-prone and, for the most part, lacking urgency. All that said, the Jets did carry a 2-1 lead into the third period after goals by Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burmistrov, but the Oilers responded with two goals 35 seconds apart by Ryan Jones and Lennart Petrell early in the third before Taylor Hall fired home his 23rd of the season and Jordan Eberle his 28th to seal the deal.

Nik Antropov picked up his ninth with 70 seconds remaining while Edmonton's other goal came courtesy Ryan Whitney. Devan Dubnyk was steady in the Oiler goal in earning his 13th win of the season.

"We looked like we were emotionally drained, physically drained, and we didn't have much energy," said Noel. "Why is that? Is that because the level of games we had to play and the pressure of winning at home and trying to keep getting points, and coming back from being down and battling back -- those things are real for me, they take their toll. Sometimes this is the by-products of those things."

It was the final 20 minutes -- a period in which the Oilers outscored Winnipeg 4-1 -- that was particularly appalling given what was at stake for the Jets.

"I guess we felt too good about ourselves coming out for the third period," said Antropov, "and that's why they made us pay for it. We came out flat. They played a pretty good game, so you've got to give them credit for that.

"It's obviously disappointing. We came up short and it was huge game for us. There's no explanation."

The loss ends a six-game stretch in which the Jets hadn't lost in regulation (4-0-2) and was a reminder of how thin the margin of error is for this bunch.

"It was a sloppy game," said Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "Bad start to the third period and we lost two points. It was a weird game. I don't know what happened. Those games happen, but we've got to be better next time."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2012 D1

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