WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets beat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout at MTS Centre on Thursday in a game between two teams trying to break out of the crowded pack of Western Conference teams chasing a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the win, the Jets have 64 points, one point behind the Coyotes, who hold two games in hand and currently sit one point back of the Dallas Stars for the second of two wild-card spots in the West.
The game began a stretch of nine of 12 games on home ice for the Jets, who are attempting to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007 when the organization was based in Atlanta. Given the Jets' position in the playoff hunt, coach Paul Maurice was happy to get the extra point Thursday.
"That's the way that our games are going to look now, and if you can get two points on teams that are scratching and clawing at this point, absolutely [the Jets will take the win]," he said.
Martin Hanzal's power-play goal early in the third period pulled Phoenix even at 2-2 before the teams clamped down defensively for the remainder of regulation time. Shootout goals from Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi carried the Jets to the extra point; Antoine Vermette hit the net for the Coyotes in the tiebreaker.
"Coming out of the break, we wanted to make sure that we came out with energy," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "For the most part, I didn't mind our game."
Tippett's team managed to scratch out a point against a Winnipeg team that has been hot since Maurice took over for Claude Noel on Jan. 13. The Jets are now 10-3-1 and own the NHL's second-best points percentage since the coaching change.
"We'll take the two points, move on and try to get sharper from here," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said.
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson opened the scoring with his ninth goal of the season. Jets right wing Blake Wheeler countered with his team-leading 23rd goal in the first period, and center Bryan Little added his 19th goal during a second-period power play.
The game featured a matchup of goaltenders from the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Smith, who won a gold medal with Canada, started for the Coyotes in making his League-leading 50th appearance and stopped 27 shots. Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, a member of the Czech Republic team, made 34 saves.
Smith did not play for Canada during Olympic competition, and he welcomed the opportunity to resume his heavy workload in the Phoenix net.
"It's tough," Smith said of his lack of recent game competition. "It's exciting to get back in there and playing again. Obviously, it was an unbelievable experience, and I'll have those memories for the rest of my life and I wouldn't give [them] back for anything.
"It was tough to watch, tough to not be in games. But I accepted that role and knew when I came back that I'd get a lot of ice time, so I'm well-rested."
Pavelec countered with strong work late in the regulation and overtime as Phoenix pressed for the winning goal.
"To win that game, Ondrej really had to compete hard in the net," Maurice said.
The Coyotes took a 1-0 lead when Radim Vrbata's pass reached Ekman-Larsson alone in the slot, and the Swedish defenseman snapped a shot that went over Pavelec's left glove with 7:43 left in the first period.
Wheeler answered for the Jets 2:38 later. After Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien jostled with Smith in close, Wheeler sent a shot from the right boards that snuck through the goaltender's pads as he attempted to regain his footing.
Little broke a 1-1 tie late in the second period when he pounced on Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek's turnover in the slot and lifted a shot over Smith. The power-play goal with 1:59 remaining in the period came as Winnipeg was on a 1-for-15 slide and tied for 25th in the League entering the game with the man advantage.
After killing off an Ekman-Larsson slashing minor to start the third period, the Coyotes' eighth-ranked power play went to work with Winnipeg center Jim Slater off for hooking. With 28 seconds left on the minor, Hanzal jabbed a rebound behind Pavelec at 6:40 for a 2-2 game.
Each team battled rust, especially in the game's first half, and knows that it will need to sharpen its game as the Western Conference race intensifies.
The Coyotes departed Winnipeg after the game for a road game Friday against the Colorado Avalanche. Tippett found reasons for optimism in his team's play against Winnipeg. After playing the Avalanche, the Coyotes settle back in Phoenix for three consecutive home games next week.
"There are certainly some positive things from our group to build on there," Tippett said. "We just came back, so we [knew] it [was] going to be a little bit choppy. But I liked the effort, I liked some of the structure we played with, and now we have to continue to bring that night in and night out."
"There was lots of urgency and intensity," Tippett added. "There were some turnovers I didn't like in the game; those are things that we have to continue to clean up. But the will we played with and the desperation, that's going to have to be there every night."
The Jets will play Saturday afternoon at the Nashville Predators, another team they are trying to fend off in the playoff chase.
"It's a positive to maybe not play your A game and still get two points," Wheeler said. "You know that it's not going to be the last time we have to do that this year.
"It's an all-out sprint. There is no time to think about being tired. You've got to lay it on the line. If [we] want to be a playoff team, which we want to be, there's going to be a lot more hard hockey ahead of us."
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