March 23, 2012
Snapshots: Jets prove they belong in playoff race
By Ted Wyman, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Just when most of the hockey world was ready to write them off, the Jets dug deep and found a level of intensity they’ve never reached before.
Led by a fourth line made up of two callups and a super utility player, the Jets showed tremendous character in coming back from a 3-0 deficit to tie it up in regulation time and going on to win it in overtime on a goal by one of their unsung heroes.
When it was 3-0 for the Capitals early in the second period, Jets coach Claude Noel called a timely timeout and the visitors responded with an uplifting goal by callup Ben Maxwell.
After Jim Slater fired the Jets bench up further by fighting rugged Capital Brooks Laich, it was all Winnipeg.
The Jets completely dominated the last half of the second period and the third, got huge goals from fourth-liners Spencer Machacek (late in the third) and Tim Stapleton (in overtime) and earned a massive 4-3 victory that kept their dimming playoff hopes alive.
If ever there was a game to build upon, it was this one. The Jets had their best period of the year in the third when they needed it most, outshooting the hosts 17-2.
It was inspiring and gutsy and even though it may not be enough to get them in the playoffs in the long run, it was a performance that proves they absolutely want to be there.
Fourth line shining
Nine times in the last five games, the fourth line has provided a big spark with huge goals for the Jets. This time it was Maxwell scoring on a spin-o-rama to make it 3-1, Machecek diving to put home a great feed from Maxwell to tie it at 3-3 and Stapleton roofing a shot in overtime. The Jets have gotten great production from their fourth-liners lately, including the aforementioned trio, along with Nik Antropov (who is now injured) and Antti Miettinen ... Almost inexplicably, the Jets came out and played a wide open style once again in the first period. They abandoned the tight-checking style and threw caution to the wind. They were terrible with the puck at their own blue-line and in the neutral zone and it was easy for Washington to build up a three-goal lead. They had never come back from three goals down before, so you had to believe they were done and the playoff nothing but a pipe dream. Then somehow, they just flipped the switch and used their skating and physical play to capitalize on the fact that the Capitals were tired after playing the night before ... Jets fans are getting a good glimpse of the future in callups Machacek and Maxwell. Both players continue to show they are ready to become NHL regulars soon. Machacek, who has a goal and four assists in three games (that’s two more points than Eric Fehr has in 35 games) seems likely to be a full-time Jet next season and after Maxwell scored a nifty goal and set up the tying marker, he may be a contender as well.
Stuart heart and soul
If everyone on the Jets played with the kind of heart Mark Stuart displayed Friday night, they would be a playoff team for sure.
Stuart was a physical force and fearless shotblocker, as he always is, in the win over Washington. For good measure he saved a goal on a diving play and did everything a leader should do in a game of such vital importance.
In the first period alone, Stuart hammered three of the Capitals and left them all lying on their backsides. He even jumped into the rush to create scoring chances a few times.
All season long, Stuart has been one of the most consistent Jets, a guy who hates to lose more than anyone and who never takes a shift off.
This may be captain Andrew Ladd’s team, but Stuart is its heart and soul.
Slater fires them up
Shortly after Slater fought Laich, the Jets fed off the energy and Bryan Little banged in a rebound to make it 3-2. The Jets absolutely needed someone to step up with the Capitals starting to pound them and Slater, who has only two fighting majors this season, answered the call ... When Alex Ovechkin scored on a delayed penalty, it looked reminiscent of the goal the Penguins scored against the Jets Tuesday night. Every Capital skater touched the puck and eventually they got it to their world-class goal scorer, who made no mistake. It was a carbon copy of Tuesday’s goal, except there Evgeni Malkin pulled the trigger ... Had to wonder if the Caps would seek retribution against Stuart for his big hit on Marcus Johansson last Friday in Winnipeg. But they didn’t do much except hit the ice every time Stuart doled out another big check ... Dustin Byfuglien hasn’t practised much lately and as a result he looks sluggish early in games. When the big defenceman is sluggish, he’s only slightly north of a liability. Good thing he gets better as the game goes on... The Capitals had only seven shots on net in the first, but at least four of them were quality scoring chances and Ondrej Pavelec had to face in-tight chances for both Ovechkin and Alexander Semin early on. Pavelec had a strong game even though he barely faced any shots for the final 30 minutes ... Pavelec couldn’t do much when Jason Chimera got a gift breakaway and converted on a backhand deke to make it 1-0. Chimera strolled in at the point vacated by Byguflien, who joined Blake Wheeler on a rush and then missed the net with a shot attempt. Three things went horribly wrong on the play. 1. Byfuglien didn’t score. 2. Byfuglien didn’t hit the net. 3. Ladd was covering for Byfuglien at the point and decided, inexplicably to join the rush. Terrible execution ... Prior to this game the Jets had not won a single game when trailing heading into the third period, while the Caps had not lost when leading heading into the third. So much for the stats.