WINNIPEG — Andrew Ladd described it as a playoff atmosphere. Nik Antropov said it was the loudest the MTS Centre has been since the first game of the season.
The Winnipeg Jets are fighting for their playoff lives, and their vocal fans are doing their part to help their post-season push.
The intimidating din in Winnipeg’s arena paid off as Dustin Byfuglien crashed the net and scored the game-winner at 9:21 of the third period, and the Jets kept their playoff hopes alive with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday.
“It was intense,” said Ladd, who scored the game’s first goal.
“Probably this is as close as it’s going to get for us. This is kind of our playoffs right now anyway. It’s do or die. We’ve got to keep winning games. I like the way we stepped up and competed tonight.”
Antropov also scored for Winnipeg, while Ondrej Pavelec made 20 saves for his 27th win of the season in front of a loud, packed house of 15,004 fans.
Fans again showed their creativity, this time aiming “Crosby’s better” chants at Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.
“It’s classic,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said of the fans’ witty jeers during the season.
“That’s what you’ve got to like. It’s not the standard ‘boo, yah, boo, yah.’ They come up with new things.
“I mean, they’re just ruthless,” he added with a laugh.
Brooks Laich and Mathieu Perreault scored for Washington, while Tomas Vokoun made 25 saves.
Winnipeg (34-29-8) moved into ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 76 points, one point ahead of idle Buffalo.
Washington (36-29-6) retained eighth spot in the conference, but are now only two points ahead of the Southeast Division-rival Jets.
“Definitely this game had a playoff atmosphere,” Antropov said.
“Fans did their part tonight. They were second loudest, I guess, after that first game as a Jet. It was a good game and we enjoyed it and hopefully our fans did, too.”
The loss halted Washington’s four-game winning streak.
“We came back in the second period pretty well,” Ovechkin said.
“We scored the first goal right away, but again it was one of those games where who scores the third goal wins. It was still a tough loss.”
The Capitals also absorbed the playoff-like atmosphere.
“Both teams played really hard and there’s the fight to get into the playoffs, too, so it was a big game,” Perreault said.
Byfuglien, who also had an assist, was unavailable after the game because he was getting treatment. Noel said he was fine.
The game-winner came off of a good play by Evander Kane. As Byfuglien skated in and stopped in front of Vokoun, Kane sent the puck into the crease and the big defenceman tipped it in.
Noel joked that Byfuglien was actually “resting” in the crease from his long shifts. He played just over 17 minutes.
“Buf wants to have impact in games and does,” Noel said. “He was good, really good.”
Washington went on the power play during the final 2:22 of the game after Ron Hainsey was sent to the penalty box for high-sticking, but the Jets killed it off.
“I thought that was a heck of a game,” Noel said. “I thought the game was pretty much all that it was made out to be, really.
“I thought it was a playoff-style game. It would have been a sad game to lose.”
Ladd opened the scoring with a backhand shot that went over Vokoun’s glove at 11:08. It was his third goal in two games.
Laich evened the score 22 seconds later when he redirected Marcus Johansson’s shot from the blue-line.
Wheeler assisted on Ladd’s goal, extending his points streak to six games with four goals and four assists.
Winnipeg went ahead 2-1 late in the second period on Antropov’s determination.
With a Washington defender draped on top of him, Antropov managed to get his stick on a pass from the back of the net by Tim Stapleton and flipped the puck in the net with a backhand shot at 16:10.
The Capitals started the third period on the power play after a questionable holding call on Jets defenceman Tobias Enstrom with 10 seconds left in the second.
It was a costly penalty, as Hainsey couldn’t clear the puck and it banged into Perreault, who then fired it into the net just 27 seconds in to make it 2-2.
Byfuglien’s goal came during a four-on-four as Washington’s right-winger Troy Brouwer and Wheeler were off for roughing.
Winnipeg was 0-5 on the power play and Washington 1-3.
The teams play each other for the last time during the regular season next Friday in Washington.
Winnipeg hosts Carolina on Sunday. Second of a five-game road trip for the Capitals, who travel to Chicago for a game Sunday.