The Winnipeg Jets found a way to take playing loose to a whole new level on Tuesday night.
During the opening 21 minutes and change, that meant falling behind 3-0 to the Florida Panthers while showing very little.
In their first game since being officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Jets limped out of the gate but ultimately found a way to rally as they scored the next four goals — looking like a team that had nothing to lose.
However, a sharp-angle goal from Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky from a bad angle late in the third period evened the score.
The Panthers had a glorious chance to end it in the final minute, but Tomas Fleischmann was stopped on a clear-cut breakaway by Ondrej Pavelec with 15 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
That’s where captain Andrew Ladd scored his second of the game – and second OT winner on this trip — to give the Jets a 5-4 win over the Panthers, who were trying to secure their first playoff appearance since 2000.
Ladd now has 27 goals on the season, just two shy of the career high he posted last season and gives him six game-winners.
It won’t make much difference in the standings, but the Jets responded when they could have easily rolled over and been blown out.
While it won’t erase the season-long road struggles, the Jets are now 2-0-1 on this four-game road swing, which ends Thursday in Uniondale, N.Y., against the New York Islanders.
The Jets now have 83 points, which ties them for the third highest point total in Atlanta Thrashers franchise history.
It’s well-documented the Jets are working to instill a new standard but you have to start somewhere.
Baby steps folks, baby steps.
PAVELEC WANTS TO PLAY
Pavelec made his career-high 67th start on Thursday and we expect he’ll make his 68th on Saturday night in the season finale at MTS Centre. Pavelec wants to play every night, but it makes more sense to get veteran backup Chris Mason another start before the season is over ... The Panthers got two goals in the first period as Marco Sturm scored on a rebound and Jet killer Kris Versteeg scored his career-high 23rd of the season — and whopping eighth against the Jets in five games (he missed one meeting due to injury) — on a nifty double redirection. You’ll be surprised to know that was Versteeg’s first goal in 16 games. Versteeg’s goal was a power-play marker and saw mobile defenceman Brian Campbell earn an assist — his 30th on the power play and 48th overall ... Many folks were scratching their heads when the Panthers acquired Campbell and his $7-plus million cap hit for the next four seasons but he’s had a huge impact on the Panthers this season and is the third-highest scoring D-man in the NHL with 52 points ... Just 25 seconds into the second period, Fleischmann’s fanned on a one-timer but the puck made its way into the goal. At that point, you wondered if the Panthers were going to run away with this one. A few shifts later, Pavelec stoned Scottie Upshall on a one-timer but the Jets found a way to get back into it, oddly enough on a turnover by Versteeg just inside the offensive blue line. On the play, Spencer Machacek picked up his ninth point in nine games since his second recall of the season when he recorded an assist on Evander Kane’s 30th late in the second period. Machacek made a sweet pass around sliding Panthers D-man Mike Weaver and Kane made no mistake.
KANE MAKES A CASE
After scoring 19 last season, jumping to 30 is a big deal for Kane, a pending restricted free agent. That sound you heard after Kane’s goal was the cash-register ringing. A source said Kane will pocket a cool $250,000 for reaching 30 and it’s a nice round number (with two games to play) to use in negotiations. As a point of reference, Islanders winger Matt Moulson became just the 11th NHL player to hit 35 goals on Tuesday night. As good as Kane’s season has been, it’s scary to think he might just be scratching the surface. He should be a shoo-in to be a member of Canada’s entry at the IIHF World Championship for the third consecutive spring.
DOING IT ON D
After a goal-mouth scramble — and with time winding down in the second period — Jets blue-liner Zach Bogosian blasted a shot from the right point into the net for his fourth goal of the season. Bogosian added an assist to give him a career-high 28 points, despite missing 17 games due to injury ... Speaking of D-man, Byfuglien finished with two assists to give him 50 points (11 goals, 39 assists) on the season. Impressive that his second consecutive 50-point season came in a year where he missed 16 games due to injury and played through injury in several others ... After Ladd tied the game in the opening minute of the third period, Bryan Little added his 24th on the power play at 3:45, leaving the Panthers in disbelief, at least temporarily ... Rounding out the Jets top line, Blake Wheeler had two assists to give him 46 helpers and 63 points.