RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Winnipeg Jets had to learn a hard lesson last week when they lost back-to-back games to divisional rival Washington: There's no room for clunkers in this abbreviated season.
The Jets showed they'd gotten got the message Tuesday night by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. It's the second straight victory for Winnipeg, which is first in the Southeast Division with an 18-14-2 record.
"It's been the same story all year -- every game is big," said Jets center Olli Jokinen, who tied the game late in the first period. "There's always some team in your division or conference getting points because you don't play against the other conference. Every game is huge. We're happy we're in a situation to control where we can be."
Although the second-place Hurricanes have three games in hand, the Jets pushed their lead to six points over Carolina, which is 0-5-1 in the last six.
Evander Kane played a role in all the Winnipeg goals. After setting up Jokinen on a 2-on-1, he dished to Tobias Enstrom for a power-play blast in the second period. Five minutes later, Nik Antropov popped in the rebound of a Kane slap shot.
Kane capped his night -- and finished off the Hurricanes -- with an unusual goal in third period. Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain tried to break up Kane's set-up pass through the slot, but instead backhanded the puck past Hurricanes netminder Justin Peters from the hash marks.
"It was nice to get a friendly bounce," said Kane, who has 13 goals and 25 points. "You don't get too many of those in the season, but I'll take it."
The Jets withstood an early push from the Hurricanes as Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made some sparkling saves in the first period, particularly during a Carolina power play. Although the Hurricanes got on the scoreboard first when Jiri Tlusty scored his 14th goal of the season, Winnipeg looked fortified for withstanding the early onslaught.
"When things are going your way, it makes things easier as the game goes along," Kane said. "You feel that much more confident on the ice. It was a good game for us as a team."
That was a fortunate turn of events for the Jets. Coach Claude Noel admitted to being worried after a morning skate he felt would leave observers thinking, "these guys are awful."
"I thought we played a good first period," Noel said. "We were good for the first six minutes, and then we gave them a power play. They could have scored four on that power play [but] Pavelec was superb."
Pavelec was busy all night, stopping 38 shots for his 15th win of the season. Having played in all but three of his team's 34 games, it's no surprise he has seen the second-most shots in the League.
"They had some good chances," said Pavelec, who has won both games at Carolina this season. "They did a great job getting traffic in front of me and they are good at tipping pucks. But we handled it. They had a little more energy because they didn't play for a while. It was huge that they scored just one goal."
Pavelec's description of Carolina's play was far more charitable than the assessment from Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. In his first full season as Carolina's coach, it is clear that Muller is showing a level of frustration that corresponds with the mounting winless streak.
With four days off to prepare after back-to-back 4-1 home losses to Florida and New Jersey, Muller had tried to sell a positive message ahead of the game with Winnipeg: The team could use a little rest and refocus, then start the push to the playoffs. Did it bother him that the team didn't respond to the time off?
"Yeah, it does," Muller said. "It's all mindset. Get the job done. We were fresh tonight, we were focused and ready to go. When the puck drops, that's when you've got to perform -- not in the morning skate, not yesterday. It's all about playing. We didn't have it tonight."
Earlier in the day, the Hurricanes waived forward Jussi Jokinen, a 30-goal scorer just three seasons ago. While not a direct message to the team, the move certainly was an indicator that there is little margin for error for the team. Having scored just one goal in each of the last five games, Muller isn't sure the Hurricanes are getting the message.
"The games have picked up," he said. "We've got to catch on with it here. That was a huge game tonight. Desperation, work ethic -- that's got to match up with what's going on in the League. I hope our players are sitting at home watching games at night and seeing how desperate teams are playing just to get a point. Teams are trailing, and coming back and going to overtime. They're blocking shots and paying the price. I don't think we can say that tonight."
The Hurricanes now face a three-game road trip against three team in playoff position - Toronto, Winnipeg and Montreal.
"We have had some success [on the road] and that is something we can look to," Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison said. "We have to grab at anything we can right now and get this turned around as quick as possible. We have no other choice but to play with more urgency."
With the Hurricanes now in 10th place, there's no mistaking what the upcoming games mean to Carolina.
"This is playoffs right now," Muller said. "This is where you've got to bring your 'A' game. Some guys did, but not enough."
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