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Jets rally to beat 'Canes 4-3 in OT

by Kurt Dusterberg
RALEIGH -- Andrew Ladd's overtime winner Friday night gave the Winnipeg captain one up on his buddy, Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.

But the 4-3 victory means much more in the Jets' big picture. The win kept alive their mathematical chances of making the playoffs.

Ladd needed just 16 second of overtime to finish off a comeback from a 3-1 deficit, lifting a wrister past Ward for the season-saving goal. With the overtime loss, Carolina was officially eliminated from playoff contention.

"It's always fun to score against Ward," said Ladd, who scored another game winner -- and his 100th NHL goal -- against Ward and the Hurricanes back in November. "We're good buddies but we're very competitive. It's always fun to get the upper hand. So I'll get bragging rights for the summer at least."

The Jets came dangerously close inching toward summertime by playing a sloppy early game.

After Nik Antropov scored an early first-period goal on a wrister from the left circle, the Jets struggled to find their game, managing three shots through the first 10 minutes. The Hurricanes tied the game at 11:22 on Derek Joslin's second goal of the season. Jeff Skinner set up the tally by rolling off Grant Clitsome's check and sending a backhand pass to Joslin, who was left alone in the slot.

The Jets' play got a bit looser after Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason took a four-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. 'Canes captain Eric Staal  picked up the puck at the defensive blue line and held off Tim Stapleton from the offensive blue line before doing a 360 in the slot to beat goaltender Chris Mason. The Jets managed just one shot on the four-minute power play.

Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian said some players used the intermission to speak their minds.

"We're a pretty tight group in here," Bogosian said. "A few guys said a few things, but you just can't leave your goaltender out to dry like that. It was more of a pride thing than anything."

Nor was Jets coach Claude Noel at a loss for words after the first 20 minutes.

"I got involved, but they [spoke] on their own," he said. "I had some things I had to clear up from a coaching standpoint, but you have to trust that your room is strong enough to handle some of those things, and I think they did."

Despite the call to action, Carolina pushed the lead to two goals early in the second period on Brandon Sutter's 16th of the season at 3:49. Drayson Bowman did the heavy lifting on the play, circling the net to put a shot on Mason. With a crowd clogging the crease, Sutter had an open look with the rebound.

But the Jets cut the lead to 3-2 when Spencer Machacek set up Jim Slater for a tip-in at 10:25. Machacek sent a perfect pass over the stick of Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison to Slater for a tip-in at the net. In seven games since being recalled from Winnipeg's AHL team, the St. John's Ice Caps, Machacek has two goals and eight points.

"To be down 3-1 shows a lot of character by the team, that we're not going to give up in here," said Slater. "In the second and third period, we said we're going to throw it all out there."

The Jets needed most of the third period to get the tying goal, coming with Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty serving a double minor for high sticking. Kyle Wellwood cleaned up a rebound to the right of the Carolina net for his 17th of the season.

Despite outshooting the Hurricanes 18-9 in the third period, the Jets relied on Mason for a couple key stops down the stretch, including a close range snap shot from Sutter that the netminder snatched with his glove.

"They were all tough," Mason said. "But that one was probably the toughest."

Mason has been the Jets' go-to goalie this season against Carolina, earning five of Winnipeg's six starts. With a 4-1-0 mark, he has not only given his team a boost, but he has solidified his position as a capable backup after posting a 3.39 goals-against average in 33 games last season.

"I understand if I want to stay in this League, I have to learn how to play in those situations," Mason said. "This year I dedicated myself to getting back to doing that. I didn't think I was good at adjusting to it last year. This year I've done a lot better job of being ready when I was called upon."

Carolina's elimination came in fitting fashion. The loss was the 16th in 19 overtime and shootout games.

“These are things we need to learn as a group and be better,” Staal said. “We’ve let a lot of points slip away in that frame this season, but more importantly we had a 3-1 lead on a team that didn’t look like they had a lot of life. We let them hang around. You can look back all you want, but it is what it is.”

The Hurricanes' playoff chances had been on the ropes since early December, when their record slipped to 8-17-4. Carolina's play has improved noticeably under midseason replacement Kirk Muller, but the team couldn't make up enough ground to make things interesting.

"They scored at the right time and we just dropped our level of intensity," Muller said of Friday's loss. "It's a good lesson."
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