WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets still do not reside above the Eastern Conference playoff line, and they need not yet start scouting top-eight real estate.
The Carolina Hurricanes ripped away two points from the Jets in taking a 4-3 decision at the MTS Centre on Sunday night that left Jets coach Claude Noel steaming.
"This one will stick in there for a long time," Noel said. "To me, the bottom line with this game is that if we don't make the playoffs, we don't deserve to make the Playoffs. That is the bottom line. We don't deserve it. There is a price to pay to win games and there is a price to pay to get into the playoffs, and it's not a 'sometimes' thing."
Two Carolina goals in the third period erased a one-goal second-intermission deficit and dealt a major blow to the Jets' playoff chances. Chad LaRose broke a 3-3 tie when beat Ondrej Pavelec with 1:22 left in the third period to complete the Carolina comeback that began with an Eric Staal tying goal midway through the period. Larose pounced on a bouncing puck on a miscue between Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little, scooted away from Andrew Ladd and snapped a shot pat Pavelec from inside the right circle.
"There is no doubt that the emotional level that we were at wasn't good enough," Noel said. "The problem was that [we] couldn't stop the bleeding. That's sad, because we came so far, and to do this to each other and to disrespect each other like this was silly. We only had to play 20 minutes in the third, and yet we couldn't do that."
The Jets remain anchored two points behind the eighth-place Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference race and now must embark on a three-game road trip that begins Tuesday night at Pittsburgh.
While Carolina's playoff chances are faint at best, the win moves the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference's 11th spot and three points behind the Jets. Carolina has won three games in a row and took consecutive come-from-behind road wins this weekend.
"There is a lot of fight in our group," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "We don't know what is going to happen at the end, but we're creeping up."
The Hurricanes received 2 goals and an assist from Staal. Jussi Jokinen, who added two assists, also provided a shorthanded goal.
"We'll take it and keep working," Staal said, "because stranger things have happened, and we're going to keep playing hard."
Cam Ward made 30 saves. Carolina also held the League's No. 1 home power play scoreless on five chances.
"We feel really good about our game and where we are at," Ward said.
Winnipeg relied on its fourth line for offense against a stubborn Carolina club, with veterans Nik Antropov and Antti Miettinen supplying the home club's offense. Antropov erased one Carolina lead in the first period before exiting the game with a lower-body injury. Then Miettinen supplied his first two goals of the season in the second period that tied and later sent the Jets ahead after two periods.
Pavelec hit the 60-game mark with a 31-save performance that again anchored the Jets in net as he made his 12th start in the past 13 games. Carolina delivered 19 third-period shots after managing 16 over the first two periods against a Winnipeg defense corps that was left with five defenseman for the second half of the game. Winnipeg's blue line had regained Zach Bogosian from injury, but the third-year defender exited the game midway through the second period with a game misconduct for a booming hit on Andreas Nodl.
Winnipeg had snatched two leads from the Hurricanes to set up a 2-2 game when Miettinen completed a give-and-go play on a two-man rush with 1:06 left in the second period. Miettinen broke into the zone with recent AHL recall Spencer Machacek and received a return pass from Machacek that he squeezed between the right post and Ward's right pad.
But halfway through the third period, Ladd failed to get a puck deep at the Carolina blue line, allowing Jokinen to connect on a long pass that freed Staal inside the neutral zone. The captain moved in on Pavelec and converted a breakaway for a 3-3 game with 9:36 left.
"We were up 3-2," Pavelec said. "You have to decide do you want to win the game or do you want to score goals. We were up 3-2, and we need every point, and we made a couple of turnovers in the third, and it cost us the game. We didn't deserve it."
The clubs started the contest by combining for six first-period power plays. Carolina took three minors in a 3:57 span over the opening eight minutes that put the Winnipeg power play to work. The Jets' three power plays included a 1:25 two-man advantage that Carolina managed to burn off. Eleven seconds into Winnipeg's second power play, Jokinen countered the home attack when he cruised into the Winnipeg zone along the left boards and through to the bottom of the circle before he flicked a weak blocker-side shot that snuck past Pavelec 7:41 into play.
Winnipeg replied four minutes later, however, when Antropov picked up his third goal in as many games. A bouncing puck careened into the slot in front of Ward. Antropov smacked a backhanded chip shot behind Ward at 11:41 that tied the game at 1-1.
Carolina again used special-teams play to take their second lead. Twenty-five seconds after Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart's offensive-zone minor, Staal hit the 20-goal mark by placing a shot high that eluded Pavelec at 5:45.
The Jets used the final moments of their fourth power play to erase a Carolina lead for the second time. Evander Kane directed a long bullet from the right point that Miettinen tipped through Ward's pads just as Jiri Tlusty's minor expired. The even-strength goal was Miettinen's first NHL goal this season over 35 games.
Moments after the Miettinen goal, Bogosian stepped into Nodl inside the Carolina zone with a booming hit. But the play sent the Hurricanes on a five-minute major and ended Bogosian's evening. But the Jets burned off 3:43 of the major before a Tuomo Ruutu penalty ended the Hurricanes' power-play bid.
The Hurricanes now head home to meet the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, one of only two home games they are playing over a 12-game stretch.
"It's a gutsy effort," Muller said. "This is the way our guys have been playing since Christmas. They go and give it everything that they've got. They've been finding a way to pick up points. I'm really proud of the group, because our leaders stepped up."