WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets came within 10.8 seconds of taking over first place in the Southeast Division for the first time this season and sweeping their four-game series with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Instead, the Jets will have to settle for one point and another in a long line of learning experiences. Philadelphia's Jaromir Jagr scored with 43.6 seconds left in overtime on the Flyers' 55th shot of the game, giving them a 5-4 victory on Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.
Holding a 4-3 lead in the final minute of regulation, the Jets nearly survived Philadelphia's 18-shot third-period bombardment, only to see Wayne Simmonds score with 10.8 seconds left when he stuffed James van Riemsdyk's centering feed behind Ondrej Pavelec.
Then in overtime, the Flyers outshot the Jets, 6-1, and won the game when Daniel Briere stole the puck behind the Winnipeg net and fed Jagr for a quick snap shot that beat Pavelec cleanly.
"As far as the attack goes," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, "I really liked our game, and I'm really proud that the guys kept coming, and pumping. It was one of those gutsy efforts that you look back on and it might have been one of our best, toughest wins of the year."
The Jets now have 65 points, matching the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division's points lead and the Toronto Maple Leafs for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But the Jets have played more games than both teams and trail them in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"It's a game where we probably could have gotten two [points]," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "Did we deserve two? I'll let you be the judge of that."
Philadelphia's win helped the Flyers keep pace with the Penguins and hold them in the Eastern Conference's fifth-place slot. Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Max Talbot also scored for the Flyers, who outshot the Jets 55-26 in the opener of a four-game trip that continues Thursday night at Edmonton. The 55 shots were the most by any team in a game this season and tied a Winnipeg franchise mark for shots allowed.
"We have four lines and they all can score goals," said Jagr, who scored his 16th overtime goal, breaking a four-way tie for the most in NHL history. "You have to make the other team tired, you know, because every line can score. That's what made us dangerous in the first half of the season. Any line you put on the ice, they can score."
"It doesn't matter how many they score against us," Jagr continued, "because we know we can score a lot of goals."
The Flyers needed that offensive output, because goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, whom coach Peter Laviolette pulled in last Saturday's home loss to Pittsburgh, struggled again, stopping only 22 shots. Afterward Bryzgalov was grateful that his teammates bailed him out.
"I think we won, because the team deserved to win," Bryzgalov said. "They played unbelievably. They created so many chances to score. I think it was a fair result."
While Bryzgalov struggled, Pavelec turned in another stout effort in making his 51st appearance of the season and tying a career high for saves in a game. The loss left Pavelec pacing in the hallway of the Winnipeg dressing room afterward, and he did not speak to the media.
"Right after the game, I kind of went up to him," forward Tim Stapleton said of Pavelec, "and you could tell how frustrated he was. It's obviously not his fault."
While Pavelec did not speak, his coach had plenty to say about his goaltender.
"Say what you want, goalies like that, you can win championships with goalies like that, goaltending like that," Noel said.
Along with Pavelec, the Jets also built a lead via a power-play unit that broke a 2-for-29 slump on Sunday night with tallies against Colorado continued its hot touch. The Jets converted all three of their man-advantage opportunities with goals from Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane. Ladd also supplied another even-strength goal, the second of his two during a 1:04 span in the second period. Stapleton contributed three assists, Bryan Little chipped in a pair of helpers, and Blake Wheeler added an assist, giving him 11 points in his past six games.
Kane had put the Jets ahead 4-3 on their third power play when he motored away from a cluster of players along the right half-boards toward the top of the circle. Kane then used Matt Read to screen a rising wrist shot that fooled Bryzgalov 4:57 into the third period.
But the Jets were outshot 18-3 in the final period, and Stapleton said they may have been too passive.
"I think when we were up 4-3," Stapleton said, "we kind of just focused on playing defensively and just trying to get the puck out. We weren't really focused on scoring, and maybe that kind of killed us, too. We weren't playing to win. We were playing not to lose -- and sure enough, they scored one late and then they won in overtime."
The Jets punished the Flyers and Talbot for a cross-check on Jim Slater behind the play halfway through the first period. Thirty-three seconds into the resulting power play, Byfuglien used a Ladd screen to launch a long left-point shot that skidded through Bryzgalov's pads at 12:31 for a 1-0 lead.
Philadelphia responded 3:21 later after breaking down Winnipeg's down-low coverage. Hartnell snuck free and shoveled a pass from the edge of the crease that reached Giroux, who lifted a shot on his backhand under the crossbar. The Flyers then repaid Winnipeg by scoring on the power play 1:09 into the second period when Hartnell pushed a loose rebound past Pavelec for his League-leading 14th power-play goal and a 2-1 lead.
Ladd tied the game at 2-2 with 43 seconds left on the Jets' second power play. He charged off the right boards toward the Philadelphia net. Wheeler fired a hard pass from behind the net that Ladd one-timed far-side past Bryzgalov at 7:52. Winnipeg regained the lead 64 seconds later when Ladd outmuscled newly acquired defenseman Nicklas Grossman in the slot and shoveled a rebound under Bryzgalov, the quickest span in which a Winnipeg player has scored this season.
But the Flyers pulled even when Talbot snuck in from the right circle and converted a long rebound at 11:14 for his career-best 17th goal and a 3-3 tie.
The loss left the Jets a somber group as they continue their eight-game homestand on Thursday when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit.
"We spoiled a great performance on [Pavelec's] part," Ladd said.