Andrew Ladd described it as a playoff atmosphere. Nik Antropov thought it was the loudest the MTS Centre has been since the first game of the season.
The Winnipeg Jets are fighting for the playoffs, and their vocal fans did their best to help.
Dustin Byfuglien crashed the net and scored the go-ahead goal in the third period as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Friday night.
”It was intense,” said Ladd, who scored the game’s first goal.
As Byfuglien skated in front of Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun, Evander Kane sent the puck into the crease and the big defenseman tipped it in at 9:21 of the third. Winnipeg moved into ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 76 points, one point ahead of idle Buffalo.
The Jets are also just two points behind the eighth-place Capitals.
”Probably, this is as close as it’s going to get for us,” Ladd said. ”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.”
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.
Nik Antropov also scored for Winnipeg, while Byfuglien added an assist. Ondrej Pavelec made 20 saves for his 27th win of the season in front of a loud, packed house of 15,004. The fans showed their creativity, this time aiming ”Crosby’s Better!” chants at Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.
”It’s classic,” Jets coach Claude Noel said. ”That’s what you’ve got to like. It’s not the standard `Boo, yah, boo, yah.’ They come up with new things.”
Then, Noel laughed.
”I mean, they’re just ruthless.”
Brooks Laich and Mathieu Perreault had goals for Washington, while Vokoun made 25 saves as the Capitals’ four-game winning streak ended.
”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.”
Ladd opened the scoring with a backhand shot that went over Vokoun’s glove at 11:08 for his third goal in two games.
Laich evened things 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 a good effort by Antropov. With a Washington defender draped over him, Antropov got 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 defenseman 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 Wheeler and Washington’s Troy Brouwer were off for roughing.
”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 playofflike 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.
Notes: Winnipeg was 0 for 5 on the power play, while Washington was 1-3. … The teams play each other for the last time during the regular season next Friday in Washington.