By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — Things became pretty messy in the Eastern Conference playoff race Sunday, as the Carolina Hurricanes climbed to within three points of the ninth place Winnipeg Jets, escaping with a 4-3 win inside the unfriendly confines of MTS Centre.
With eighth place Washington (36-30-6, 78 points) losing earlier in the evening, Winnipeg (34-30-8, 76 points) had a chance be in a virtual tie with their division foes by night’s end, and things looked relatively positive leading 3-2 after 40 minutes.
Watch post-game reaction:
“Things didn’t go well. We were still up, and it doesn’t matter if we deserve it or not,” said Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 31 Carolina shots including 17 in the final frame. “A couple turnovers in the third and it costs you the game.”
“You couldn’t stop the bleeding, that was the problem,” said Winnipeg bench boss Claude Noel. “That’s sad. It’s sad because we came so far. And to do this to each other and disrespect each other like this was silly. We only had to play 20 minutes in the third and yet we couldn’t do that.”
“We were definitely off,” said Jets veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey. “We had a lead going into the third without playing all that great. We obviously couldn’t close out the deal with at least a point.”
“This one will stick in there for a long time,” added Noel. “The bottom line with this game is that if we don’t make the playoffs, we don’t deserve to make the playoffs. That’s the bottom line.”
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal — enduring 60 minutes of thunderous boos and inventive chants from the sold-out crowd — put together a three point outing, scoring early in the second, again in the third to tie the game, and then setting up Chad LaRose’s deal-breaking game winner with 1:22 remaining.
“It was an atmosphere that you love to play in — this is our playoffs for us right now. Our guys responded with a great effort and a great third period,” said Staal, who added to his team-leading 64 points. “Our guys showed a lot of resilience and a lot of fight and we stayed with our game plan, and we were rewarded… Stranger things have happened and we’re going to keep playing hard.”
Staal had this to say about the crowd’s “Jordan’s better” chant that attempted to razz the big brother of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jordan Staal.
“That was fun. I mean, Jordan’s good, but I don’t know if he’s better. It was fun to hear that, and it was fun to score a few and get the apple on the game winner. I think they probably regret the chants they were making as the game went on (and) started to hesitate. We stuck with it and were rewarded with a big win.”
Sunday’s chant, along with Friday’s similar “Crosby’s better” directed at Washington’s Alex Ovechkin will likely cease while Winnipeg fans watch from home, as the Jets begin a three-game road trip on Tuesday in Pittsburgh against the Pens’ Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal.
ChrisD.ca video/Darrin Bauming