Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets were 10 seconds away from first place

Flyers come back to win in OT and deny Winnipeg top spot

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If you could paint a picture of what it looks like to have your heart torn from your chest and be kicked in the private parts all at once, Ondrej Pavelec provided a decent portrait late Tuesday night.

The Winnipeg Jets goaltender was unavailable to speak to the media following a 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia at MTS Centre, but as the press throng exited the dressing room he was spotted propped up against a wall, his arms folded across his chest and his face sporting an expression that was part anger, part anguish and mostly dominated by frustration.

And with just cause.

The 24-year-old Czech was absolutely brilliant for the Jets as he kicked out 50 of the 55 shots he faced from a Flyer squad that overcame awful goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov by scoring with 10 ticks left in regulation to tie the game and then won it with 43.6 seconds remaining on a goal by Jaromir Jagr.

"It's obviously a pretty crappy feeling," said captain Andrew Ladd. "You're in control of the game, you've got a chance to pick two big points up and you only end up with one. I guess 'disappointment' is the word.

"(Pavelec) was excellent. He gave us a chance to win. I feel bad for him because obviously we spoiled a great performance on his part. I'm sure he's frustrated."

He wasn't alone and here's why: while the point is critical for the Jets in their fight for a playoff spot it was the loss of the second one that cost the club a chance to leapfrog past the Florida Panthers into first place in the Southeast Division and ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost in OT to New Jersey.

At it stands, Winnipeg is now 29-26-7, good for 65 points; the Panthers also have 65 at 27-20-11 as do the Leafs at 29-24-7.

So the night ended as it began, with the Panthers in third in the conference as the Southeast leaders, with the Leafs in 8th and the Jets, technically, in ninth because they have played more games.

The Flyers got goals from all of their big guns -- Claude Giroux with his 23rd, Scottie Hartnell with his 28th, Maxime Talbot with his 17th, Simmonds with his 22nd and Jagr -- who turned 40 last week -- with his 16th. Scoring for the Jets were Ladd with his 18th and 19th, Dustin Byfuglien (9th) and Evander Kane (23rd).

But the offensive outburst and the work of the power-play -- which was 3-for-3 -- will be the silver linings preached when the sun comes up on Wednesday. In the immediate aftermath, however, the reaction from everyone wearing a Jet logo was about a point lost and the work of Pavelec.

"I like our group as much today as I liked them yesterday and the day before," said Jets' coach Claude Noel. "We've got seven of eight points, lets deal with that. That's the way I'm going to deal with it. I've got a real unhappy group in there. They're really disappointed. They're not real happy at all. But on the bright side of things, if you can find it, Pavelec was unbelievable. I mean, say what you want but you can win championships with goalies like that.

"What do you want to say after a game after that? What do you want to do? How demoralized do you want to get? What do you want to do... go home and put the knives and ropes away? There's another day tomorrow, we've got another game coming up on Thursday. We're going to have to pick our bootstraps up and play. There's too much on the line for us. We've got Tampa Bay coming and we've got to get another two points. Let's focus on the task. I'm not going to bury us with this game. We got a point.

"With this game you have two choices: I could pound on the players -- which will not happen -- or I can find a way to pick us back up and let's go... It's time to move forward and let's go. I'll take the point. We'll learn, we'll do the necessary teaching that needs to get done and we'll go from there."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2012 D1

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