By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG – The atmosphere inside MTS Centre Friday night was electric. The raucous capacity crowd chanted and cheered all night as the Winnipeg Jets captured a critical two points with a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals.
More important than just a notch in the W column, the Jets’ win in regulation keeps their Southeast Division rivals from capturing a point as they chase the eighth place Capitals by two points for the conference’s final post-season spot.
Watch post-game reaction:
It also ended Washington’s four-game winning streak. Winnipeg appeared to be up for the challenge, with only three weeks between them and the playoffs — or the golf course.
“Our guys were ready for it,” said head coach Claude Noel. “What I like is, our team is really emotionally involved in the games. They want to get in. Their will is real good. Even if we hadn’t have won it, we were in check with the game.”
Winnipeg (76 points) hasn’t played much lately — Friday being their second game in seven days — and the past week has allowed Washington (78 points) and the Buffalo Sabres (75 points) to gain ground in the Eastern Conference.
“We watched teams win the games that they needed to win, and now we got to play again and we’re winning the games we need to win,” said Jets leading scorer Blake Wheeler, who’s assist on Andrew Ladd‘s game opening marker added to his career high season total of 59 points.
“This ones stings a little bit more than a playoff loss, because a playoff loss, you forget about it and move on,” said Capitals alternate captain Troy Brouwer. “This one, we really needed the points in the standings to try to get some separation between us and Winnipeg.”
Tied 2-2 midway through the third, Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien crept deep into Tomas Vokoun’s crease and jammed home the game winner via a quick Evander Kane feed from along the goal line.
“Evander Kane made a heck of a play,” said Noel. “Buff wants that impact in games and he does… It was really good.”
Byfuglien’s game-winner and 11th of the season made it a two-point night for the hefty defender. He extends his point-scoring streak to three games and sits in third among Jets point-getters with 46 on the year.
Winnipeg can’t look too far beyond Washington just yet, as they travel to D.C. in exactly one week for another Friday night tilt with major playoff implications. It will be the final matchup of the season between the rivals.
ChrisD.ca video/Darrin Bauming