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Want pizza? Jets deliver

Hand over 3 free pies to Panthers

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If Claude Noel was to pen a party-planner handbook for his Winnipeg Jets hockey club, it would include three key absolutes. Namely:

-- Be awful hosts. Nasty, rude and certainly not welcoming.

-- Jump on the guests early by getting in their face the minute they walk in the door.

-- And, finally, under no circumstances do you serve up turnovers -- 'free pizzas', Noel calls them -- to a visitor all-too willing to gorge on your generosity.

All of this brings us to Noel's post-game press conference Saturday night, not long after the Jets twice came back from deficits to the Florida Panthers only to fall 4-3 in a shootout in front of a rocking house at the MTS Centre. The win does give the Jets points in three of their last four games -- and a 2-1-1 record -- but their defensive brain cramps also turned a potential two-point night -- and a chance to move closer to the Panthers atop the Southeast Division -- into a one-point affair.

"The hard part of the game for me was the fact we gave them three free goals. For me that was really disappointing," began Noel. "We had clear possession of the puck three times in our D-zone with really not a lot of pressure and we served up three pizzas that ended up in our net.

"We haven't given a team three opportunities in a game like that this year. Why does that happen in a game, in this game? I have no idea and neither do the players. They don't play that way, they don't think that way, they don't motivate themselves that way... 'Hey, let's go out and really give up some free pizzas tonight.' And when it happens, trust me, you drag it with you.

"Having said that, we battled back.... we're not going to beat ourselves up for the game. We would have liked to have won the game, there's no doubt. But you can't be giving a team opportunities like we gave them and expect to survive those situations.

"We got a point and we will go on that note and move forward off of this."

The Jets are now 22-20-6 and their 50 points keeps them in 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, one behind ninth-place Toronto and two back of eighth-place Washington. The Panthers improve to 22-15-10 and hold top spot in the Southeast with 54 points.

Hoping to pounce on a Florida squad which arrived from Chicago around 3 a.m., the Jets instead fell behind 2-0 after the first after a pair of atrocious giveaways led to goals by Kris Versteeg and Mike Santorelli. The home side would rally to even the score at 2-2 on goals by Nik Antropov -- his seventh and eighth of the season -- but then spit up another free pizza to Versteeg less than a minute after tying it.

The Jets would even the score on a goal by Alex Burmistrov -- who replaced Eric Fehr on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little -- but then had five of their seven shooters whiff in the shootout, eventually won by the Panthers when Mikael Samuelsson beat Ondrej Pavelec.

"We were fortunate to get a point out of the game," said Antropov. "If you look at the tape, all three goals came from our turnovers. It's tough. We knew they played last night and that was big advantage for us, but we didn't use it in the first period. We came out flat again. Two turnovers, two goals in our net. But we showed some character. We dug in, we had some good quality chances."

The Jets out-shot the Panthers 44-23, but netminder Scott Clemmensen was solid. Interestingly, Florida is now 8-1-2 against Canadian teams this year, including a 3-1 record north of the border.

Winnipeg will travel to Raleigh on Sunday for the first of two games in two nights before the all-star break -- Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes and Tuesday in New York against the Rangers.

Noel, still steamed about the free pizzas, bristled when asked post-game if the result was 'a step back.'

"Every loss isn't a step back and every win isn't a step forward," he said. "When you play 82 games these are the things that happen. You're going to get these games. It's not what you want, you don't draw up these types of games. I wouldn't look at it as a step back. We got a point out of the game, we would have liked to have had two. We would have liked a better result in the end. I certainly wouldn't look at it as a step back, we've got to move forward on this game.

"How we do in the next couple of games before we break is going to be important for us."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2012 B3

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