By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — Coming off a heartbreaking last-minute loss on Sunday night, the Winnipeg Jets were looking to shake off any ‘bad feels’ they had on Tuesday night and continue their climb towards a playoff appearance against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
But again, with the game tied late, Winnipeg’s hopes in gaining any points in the dead-heat Western Conference standings were dashed as New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider broke in and broke the hearts of the majority of the 15,016 inside MTS Centre — handing the Rangers a 3-2 win and Winnipeg a consecutive loss.
“This is brutal, to be honest. It’s unacceptable, really, at this time of the season,” said Jets forward Mathieu Perreault, in his second game back after missing 16 games with a lower-body injury. “It’s tough when you get scored on with not a whole lot of time left. They’re good teams. These teams know — that Stanley Cup Final last year — they know how to shut it down late in games. Same thing with Chicago in the game before. We’ve got to find a way to bear down late in games.”
“We’ve got to put it behind us now because it’s going to do no good to think about it.”
“The emotions are all high at this point, so we just talked about how we’re going to proceed,” said Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice of his message to a surely-detested locker room following the game. “We’d like to generate more. There’s three and a half minutes left. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of time to get a feel for your response… We didn’t get enough of an opportunity to come back in that game.”
Jets veteran Jim Slater opened the scoring 3:16 in with his fourth of the year as he and Chris Thorburn displayed phenomenal effort in a rush into the Rangers zone, with Slater able to squeak one between All-World goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the near post.
New York responded midway through the opening frame as Mats Zuccarello ripped a point-shot through traffic to tie the game 1-1.
Former Ranger Lee Stempniak, in his 13th game since joining the Jets via trade from New York, scored his third with his new club and 12th of the year early in the second with a wicked wrister from the circle to re-establish the Winnipeg lead.
“Over the course of the season you sort of build up that confidence of playing well against good teams,” said Stempniak. “And at this point you’ve got to start picking up points. It’s been hard. We’ve had a few games where we’ve lost tied games and end up losing in regulation, under five minutes left, and it’s hard to lose those points.”
Again, New York was able to equalize on the power play midway through the period as Derick Brassard waited patiently before firing a blast with Winnipeg’s 6-foot-8 defenceman Tyler Myers and Rangers forward Rick Nash eclipsing the view of Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
In a heated race to the finish, Winnipeg (39-26-12) sits at 90 points in the standings, grasping the final Wild Card spot with Los Angeles just two points back with a game in hand.
Five games remain in the Jets’ regular season schedule. They complete a four-game home stand Saturday afternoon when they host the Vancouver Canucks at 2 p.m.. Winnipeg’s season finale could be a huge one, with the playoff-spot-battling Calgary Flames entering MTS Centre on April 11 for another Saturday matinee.