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Tight times ignite Nik

With every Jets win crucial, Antropov strikes again

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A ppearances can be deceiving, but it seems this is the time of year Nik Antropov has been waiting for all season, with every game now under the hot lamps of a playoff race.

It sounds strange, but the evidence has shown up in his play of late.

The big forward scored his second goal in as many games in the Jets' 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals at the MTS Centre Friday night, giving the 32-year-old 12 goals and 32 points on the year. Not numbers that jump off the page, of course, but for a club looking for some secondary scoring down the stretch in this March playoff run, Antropov is rising to the occasion.

"It feels good," he said after helping pull Winnipeg to within two points of the eighth-place Caps with 11 games to play. "I've been in the league long enough (that) team stats are more important for me right now. The goal is to make the playoffs, so that's what we're trying to accomplish.

"We have to take a load off our first line," he added. "They have been on fire lately, they've been strong, so it's great to see. Yeah, they definitely need help. We're trying to do everything we can."

Antropov's goal in the waning minutes of the second period was a result of some hard work and luck, according to the veteran. The Jets caught the Caps on a change, and when the 6-foot-6, 245-pound forward saw he had the drop on Alex Ovechkin in front of the Washington crease, he simply dug in and redirected a Tim Stapleton pass from behind the net over goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

"I don't think (Ovechkin) wants to play down low, so I heard him yell 'switch,' but there was nobody there. I took advantage of it," he said with a wry grin.

This recent Antropov renaissance -- if you can call two games a revival -- comes after a long stretch when some wondered if he was interested in playing a reduced role. Remember, he started the season in the top-six forward group but found his way down to the fourth line as the season moved along.

Head coach Claude Noel disputes the notion Antropov was demoted, believing his new role is born of a need for the team to achieve some balance throughout the forward corps.

"He's a contributor to this team, and he's shown that," the coach said. "I value what their line brings to the table. To me, they're getting better as these games go on, which is a good thing. I can put them out in a lot of good areas.

"It's a testament to (Antropov); he wants to be a part of it. He certainly hasn't pouted, that's for sure."

THE CHANT: Noel said he loved the "Crosby's better" chant put forth by the MTS Centre faithful toward Ovechkin in the third period. The coach gave the taunt full marks for creativity.

"It's classic, that's what you have to like. It's not the standard 'boo, yay, boo, yay' -- they come up with new things. They're just ruthless."

PROSPECT ADD: The Jets added another young player to their system, signing junior defenceman Julian Melchiori to a three-year entry-level contract.

Melchiori, 20, was a third-round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010.

He began his season with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers but was traded to the Oshawa Generals. The 6-foot-4 blue-liner has 36 points this season in the OHL.

Once Oshawa is done this season, Melchiori will report to the St. John's IceCaps.

-- with files from Tim Campbell

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2012 C2

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