PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Flyers are building toward a stretch-drive push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the Winnipeg Jets just hope to be in the discussion when the calendar turns to April.
The Jets got their way when Bryan Little converted the deciding tally to earn Winnipeg a 2-1 win in the shootout at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night, which ended a three-game losing streak. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec stopped the three Philadelphia attempts that he faced to set up Little's strike and the Jets' second shootout win of the season.
"I saw when [Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov]went down," Little said. "He kind of left his five-hole open, and I just decided just to give a little fake and he might open up again, so it worked."
Winnipeg (23-22-6) received another stout 27-save performance from Pavelec, who held off the Philadelphia attack during a busy third period. Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn and Brayden Schenn of the Flyers supplied each supplied a goal that set up the 1-1 tie.
The Jets arrived in Philadelphia lugging a three-game losing streak and desperately needing a win against the Flyers to salvage something from a 3-8-1 January. Winnipeg entered the All-Star break five points behind Washington and Florida. With the Panthers idle, Tuesday's win nudged the Jets to within four points of the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs, who dropped a 5-4 decision in Pittsburgh.
"I thought we played a pretty solid 65-minute road game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "Pavelec was good when he had to be. There were a lot of good things to take from the game.
"It was a great two points for us. I thought we played hard. We did the necessary things to win the game, and we're glad we found a way to win the game."
The Jets remained in 10th place however, and must also fend off the fast-moving Tampa Bay Lightning, who won for the fifth consecutive game on Tuesday and sit only four points behind Winnipeg.
Philadelphia (29-14-6) began the evening trailing the New York Rangers for the Eastern Conference lead by only three points. But collecting only one point against the Jets failed to close the gap with the Rangers, who also lost a shootout decision.
"The first and the second [periods] weren't very good," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We got going in the third period, and gave ourselves a chance to win the game, but we couldn't get it done. We didn't have our legs under us the first two periods, it seemed. The first two periods were a little bit hesitant with what we were doing out there."
Though the clubs had combined for 27 goals over their first two meetings of the season, including a 9-8 Jets win at Philadelphia on Oct. 27, the sort of game that unfolded was probably to be expected. Both clubs had only one full practice session after reconvening in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon and had not played since Jan. 24.
"I thought we looked pretty sharp," Little said. "I thought it was going to be one of those low-scoring games."
Philadelphia regained the services of Jaromir Jagr, who had missed two games with a groin injury, and he also received the sort of game that he had anticipated between a pair of teams trying to regain their pre-break precision.
"I was expecting a game like that," Jagr said. "Not a very good hockey game. It wasn't very pretty. Neither team played really well. They didn't play well, either."
The clubs took a 1-1 tie deep into the third period before Winnipeg nearly won the game in the final minute of regulation. Blake Wheeler set up Andrew Ladd in close, but Ladd's chance hit the side of the net with Bryzgalov prone on the ice. Little had another prime opportunity in overtime, but hit the goal post.
"It felt all game I was getting chances," Little said, "[and] it just wasn't going in for me. It wasn't going my way. It was nice to get that one in the shootout."
The clubs played a very quiet first period after a seven-day layoff. Neither team managed a shot until Wheeler lofted a harmless shot 10:36 into the game that Bryzgalov gloved.
Winnipeg tested Philadelphia's dangerous power play, which ranked fourth in the League to start the night, with an offensive-zone roughing penalty late in the period. Schenn punished the Jets late in the man-advantage when he poked a loose puck that barely slid across the goal line under Pavelec with 4:49 left in the period. Still, managing just six first-period shots left the Flyers and their fans less than enthused.
"He was upset even after the first [period]," Jagr said of Laviolette. "I don't blame him."
But Thorburn provided an unlikely Jets response early off the first intermission when he ended his 59-game goal drought with his first goal of the season. Thorburn took a cross-ice pass from Nik Antropov before moving into the right circle and snapping a high shot that beat Bryzgalov.
"I haven't had that feeling in a while," said Thorburn, who had not scored since March 19, 2011. "I actually turned in the corner for my celebration, and no one came to me."
But for Thorburn, a very popular and well-respected player in the Winnipeg dressing room who has been battling confidence issues this season, the goal relieved him of a tremendous burden.
"It kind of felt odd," he admitted. "It was great. It was awesome."
Noel had made Thorburn a healthy scratch earlier in the season in an attempt to kickstart the checking forward's difficult season, and Thorburn has delivered a solid performance ever since.
"He has been playing better of late," Noel said. "He has been good the past four games or so. In practice he has been working hard and putting in extra time, and I think it has helped him."
Meanwhile, with the Nashville Predators looming on Thursday, the Flyers must regroup quickly.
"Tomorrow we'll get back to work," forward Scott Hartnell said. "Tonight we played well in spurts, but you can't win like that in this League."