WASHINGTON - With his team down 3-0 to the Washington Capitals, defenceman Anthony Bitetto had enough.
"I was a little frustrated. The third goal, I felt, was my fault," said Bitetto. So when Garnet Hathaway, who scored that third goal, took a run at Bitetto shortly after, that was it.
"He took a nice run at me and I was like, we have to do something," said Bitetto, who dropped his gloves instantly.
"I thought it was the right time to do it."
Video: POSTGAME | Anthony Bitetto
That seemed to spark the Winnipeg Jets, who rallied all the way back to tie the game and force a shootout, before Alex Ovechkin scored the winner to give Washington a 4-3 win.
It was a hard-earned point for the Jets in a tough building, an effort that captain Blake Wheeler felt was ignited by Bitetto's tilt with Garnet Hathaway.
"He dug his heels in the mud and gave a little life in our group," said Wheeler. "That was a turning point in the hockey game."
Nikolaj Ehlers had a goal and an assist in the loss, while Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele also lit the lamp for the Jets (32-27-6).
For the ninth straight game, the Jets gave up the opening goal, and it was scored by the player honoured in the pre-game ceremony. After hemming the Jets in their own zone, Ovechkin batted a puck out of the air from just outside Laurent Brossoit's crease, giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead, and Ovechkin 43 goals on the season.
"We're not going out in first periods and grossly underperforming," said Maurice. "They're giving what they have back there and they're doing their very best. We get behind it a little bit, maybe a little more risk comes into our game.
"They protected the lead a little bit, but we didn't quit. We battled."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
Jakub Vrana added to that lead with 9:53 left in the opening period, then Hathaway increased it even further with 6:25 to go in the middle frame.
"(Bitetto) made a mistake he didn't like, it ended up in the back of the net. He doesn't quit on the game," said Maurice. "If you could measure or quantify heart and soul, or the importance of a guy like that in the game, it was like our team."
It was then that things changed. Hathaway threw a hit on Bitetto, and the gloves came off.
"They have some guys that have that role, our team isn't built like that," said Wheeler.
"It was awesome for Tony to (say) 'enough is enough.'"
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
Winnipeg's hard work would be rewarded late in the second, as Cody Eakin intercepted a pass in the high slot and fired it toward the Capitals' net. Braden Holtby made the initial stop and thought he had the puck frozen, but Ehlers swiped it from the goaltender's pad and tucked it home. His 23rd of the season cut the Washington lead to 3-1.
"Nik's goal is huge because now we're talking about completely different things between the second and third," said Maurice, who shuffled his forward group in that second period. As part of that, he reunited Connor with Scheifele and Wheeler, which paid dividends in the third.
After the Jets successfully killed off a Dmitry Kulikov hooking penalty, Connor picked off a puck from John Carlson and flew down the ice on a breakaway, beating Holtby in tight for his 31st goal of the season. With 11:21 to go, the Jets were only down one.
Video: POSTGAME | Laurent Brossoit
The Jets found the equalizer with 3:14 to go in the third, when Scheifele drove around Dmitry Orlov and was hauled down. But as Orlov tried to stop before going into Holtby, the puck went off his skate and under his goaltender, tying the game at three.
"When it got to 3-2, it was right there. We had a bunch of guys we ran real hard in that third period straight though, but they didn't slow down, they kept going," said Maurice. "That's a huge goal by Mark on effort alone. I'm glad we got the point because it's so critical."
Washington outshot the Jets 4-3 in the overtime period, then in the shootout, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, and Ovechkin scored for the Capitals. Scheifele and Wheeler scored for the Jets, but Holtby made a final save on Ehlers in the fifth round of the shootout to take the second point away from the Jets.
The Jets and Capitals complete the home-and-home set on Thursday at Bell MTS Place.
These days, the Winnipeg Jets must be crossing their fingers when it's time to warm-up - either on or off the ice.
Two days ago, Josh Morrissey took the warm-up but was ruled out for the game against the Sabres. On Tuesday, Sami Niku sustained a lower-body injury prior to the pre-game warm-up.
Maurice said the defenceman will be further evaluated when the team gets back to Winnipeg.