WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets began their Saturday-afternoon date with the Philadelphia Flyers lugging a five-game losing streak that had shoved them out of the Southeast Division lead and into a free-fall threatening their Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations.
The Flyers, meanwhile, arrived in Winnipeg owning a four-game winning streak that had moved them directly into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race after knocking off three opponents currently occupying playoff berths over the past week.
Well, a four-goal second period for Winnipeg led the Jets to a 4-1 win at MTS Centre and kept their playoff hopes alive for a bit longer.
The win moved the Jets (19-19-2) back into the Southeast Division lead, two points of ahead of the Washington Capitals, who meet the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. The Flyers (17-18-3) now sit three points behind Winnipeg and three points out of a playoff spot.
"I thought we played a strong game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I thought our team game was way better. That's one of the things that we've been talking about for awhile."
"We've made it difficult on ourselves," Noel continued, "and we do know that. We've got to win games. We can't do anything about [the slump that] just happened."
The visit from the Flyers kicked off a six-game homestand that will go a long way toward determining the Jets' postseason fate. Winnipeg has battled home demons all season at MTS Centre, where they have only won nine of 18 contests.
"It was a big game," Jets center Bryan Little said. "We were trying to get out of that funk, or whatever you call it. We knew it was a matter of time with guys were going through slumps and having trouble scoring, just a matter of time when you're getting chances before you get out of it."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette chose to move forward after the game.
"They're all important," Laviolette said of the Flyers' schedule. "Whether we win or lose, we need to win the next game. And when that game is over, we need to win the next game after that. We leave here, we don't take the points with us and we get ready for the next game."
"The second period was bad," Laviolette said in summing up his club's afternoon. "The first period was competitive. The third period was competitive. It was the second period that cost us."
Winnipeg used second-period goals from Grant Clitsome and Kyle Wellwood 27 seconds apart to take away Philadelphia's 1-0 lead. Evander Kane followed 1:39 later with a goal that ended his five-game drought.
"We need to get that good feeling going at home," Kane said, "and get comfortable in this arena. The fans were probably the loudest they've been all year."
Little closed out the period, striking with 54 seconds left to send the Jets up 4-1 going into the second intermission and finishing Philadelphia starter Ilya Bryzgalov's afternoon.
"We came out the way we wanted," Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell said. "We played smart, we played hard, we played physical. We were on our toes. We did a lot of great things. Then the last 40 minutes, we played like they were playing for a playoff smart and we were already down and out. They took over the game. They were harder on pucks. They were physical."
Ondrej Pavelec turned in a 31-save afternoon for the Jets. The Jets' penalty kill, a source of trouble at various points this season, also held off the Flyers' second-ranked power play on three Philadelphia opportunities.
The Flyers received a first-period goal from Ruslan Fedotenko that provided a lead they nursed deep into the second period. Bryzgalov made his 22nd consecutive start and made 12 saves. Steve Mason, whom the Flyers acquired Wednesday from the Columbus Blue Jackets, made his Philadelphia debut in third-period relief and stopped all nine shots he faced.
Philadelphia struggled even with Kimmo Timonen, a question mark to dress for the game because of a foot injury. Timonen managed to remain in the Philadelphia lineup to help reinforce a blue line missing Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros.
Desperate for a strong start in a building where they had won just eight of their first 17 home dates, the Jets failed to deliver in the first period. The Flyers buried the Jets with a 13-4 shots advantage and directed steady pressure at Pavelec, holding the home team without a shot over the final 15:04. Moments after Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd failed to convert his breakaway, the Flyers took a 1-0 lead. Kent Huskins directed a shot at Pavelec that Fedotenko deflected through a screen at 11:07.
Winnipeg rebounded with a stronger second-period effort against the Flyers, and the Jets finally broke through against Bryzgalov with seven minutes to go in the period. Little sped down the right boards and centered a pass into the slot that Clitsome fired low and past Bryzgalov. Wellwood ended a 12-game stretch without a goal when he put the Jets in the lead 27 seconds later when he fished loose a rebound and dropped it behind Pavelec.
"We lost this game in the second period," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We came out flat. That kind of stuff can't happen, especially this time of year."
Wayne Simmonds agreed. The right wing, who ranks second among Flyers with 12 goals, refused to cite the Flyers' battered defense corps as a reason for the breakdown.
"We [stunk]," Simmonds said of the four goals that the Flyers allowed in a 6:28 span. "It definitely wasn't good enough.
"I just think we shut it down for the second period. It wasn't the defense. It wasn't the goaltending. I don't really think you can point fingers. It was everybody, so can't really pick one part. It was every single player."
The Jets then took a two-goal lead at 14:44 when Kane stormed Bryzgalov's crease and jabbed a loose puck behind Bryzgalov. Little finished the period on an odd-man rush, snapping an off-wing left-circle shot that fooled Bryzgalov for his first goal that ended a six-game run without a goal. Winnipeg's four-goal period was its second such effort this season.
The Flyers face another tough week beginning Tuesday with road game against the New York Islanders, one of the slew of clubs that they are battling for a playoff spot.
"We've got to take [Saturday] as a wake-up call to get back at practice, get focused again and get up for the Islanders," Hartnell said.
The win now sets up the Jets for a visit from the Buffalo Sabres, who also lurk only four points behind the Jets.
"Everyone knew the situation, that we needed a win big time just to get momentum and headed in the right direction," Ladd said. "Time's running out, and we need to put some wins together."