WASHINGTON – Someone got sent to the penalty box for playing with a broken stick, and someone else scored a goal from centre ice.
Unusual moments like that can produce crazy results, and that’s exactly what happened when the Winnipeg Jets—a team with seemingly no offence to speak of—mounted a two-goal comeback in the final 135 seconds of regulation, then prevailed in the shootout for a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.
“We haven’t had a lot of luck lately,” Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said. “So, for us, we’ll take that and we’ll run with it.”
The bizarre turn of events tighten the race in the Southeast Division that appears on pace to produce only one playoff team. The Capitals and Florida Panthers, who beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1, are tied atop the standings with 61 points, and the Jets are only three behind.
So much for the momentum the Capitals had after beating the Panthers 4-0 on Tuesday to vault into first by themselves.
“We should have had the hockey game,” Washington centre Brooks Laich said. “It’s disappointing to lose it that way.”
Laich was the player whistled for playing the puck with a broken stick, the call coming shortly after Roman Hamrlik was sent off for slashing while the Capitals held a late 2-0 lead. In the furious moments of a penalty kill, Laich didn’t know there was a problem.
“I tried to clear the puck right away and wasn’t aware that it had snapped,” Laich said, “and he made the call.”
The 5-on-3 became a 6-on-3 when the Jets pulled the goaltender, and the resulting pressure on the Capitals net produced the inevitable goal when Evander Kane knocked in a loose puck with 2:15 to play.
Then, 12 seconds later on a 5-on-4 advantage, defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was simply trying to dump the puck into the offensive zone from centre ice. His hard drive was deflected by defenceman Karl Alzner and hopped past goaltender Tomas Vokoun—a goal measured at 82 feet.
“They dumped the puck in off my stick and it went in the net,” Alzner said. “Pretty simple, and pretty stupid. Pretty unfortunate.”
It was Byfuglien’s first goal since Dec. 9, and it gave the Jets back-to-back power-play goals after they went seven games without one. The Jets had scored only eight goals in those seven games.
“That’s what a team always needs—good luck and some bounces,” Byfuglien said. “I thought we’ve worked hard lately and haven’t really got a nice bounce. Luckily we got one.”
Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little scored in the shootout for the Jets, as did Alex Ovechkin for the Capitals, but Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec stopped shots by Alexander Semin and Mathieu Perreault.
All of the game’s goals came in the final 10 1/2 minutes of the third period, and all were on power plays. The Capitals seemed in control after Ovechkin and Semin scored less than three minutes apart, each assisting on the other’s tally.
It was Ovechkin’s 23rd goal of the season and third in two games. Dennis Wideman assisted on both goals.
But the Jets got the breaks when it mattered most, leaving the Capitals to wonder what had happened.
“I think you chalk that one up to a couple of bad bounces,” Washington centre Matt Hendricks said. “Or at least one bad bounce.”
Notes: Pavelec finished with 32 saves. Vokoun stopped 25 shots. … The game ended a streak of seven straight Jets games in which both teams combined to score exactly three goals. Winnipeg was 3-4 during that stretch. … Jets C Kyle Wellwood missed his second straight game with flu-like symptoms.