RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Winnipeg Jets are finding more reasons to believe with each passing game.
Chris Thorburn knocked home a loose puck in front of the net with 1:03 remaining in regulation to lift the Jets to a 2-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. With the victory, the Jets (28-25-5) pulled within two points of the Vancouver Canucks in the race for the final wild-card playoff berth in the Western Conference. They are 9-2-0 under interim coach Paul Maurice, who replaced Claude Noel on Jan. 12.
"Everyone understands their role and we're playing as a team," said Thorburn, who scored his 36th goal in his 516th NHL game. "With winning comes confidence, and confidence is a dangerous thing. We're riding with it."
The Jets had no shortage of feel-good scripts against Carolina. The game marked Maurice's first trip to Carolina since being dismissed by the Hurricanes Nov. 28, 2011. Andrew Ladd, chosen by the Hurricanes with the fourth pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, continued to haunt his old team with a critical goal.
Then there was Thorburn, who scored his first game-winning goal since 2008-09. After rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba boldly pinched in and circled the net, Thorburn was on the back door ready to knock in the deciding goal.
"It's nice for guys like that because he really feels like part of the offense," Maurice said. "A game-winning goal too. Those are so important to the heart-and-soul guys in your room."
Thorburn was quick to point out his humble NHL roots, having been a healthy scratch for most of his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006-07. Throughout his career, he has been called on for duties far less glamorous that scoring game-winners.
"It felt great," he said. "I'm not the guy who's depended on to score goals, but at the same time I feel confident in my ability to do that, and I've been given a great opportunity right now. If I can contribute, it's a bonus."
The teams were scoreless through the midway point in the game until Ladd finished off a 2-on-1 at 12:57 of the second period. Michael Frolik beat Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk through the neutral zone and put a shot on goal, leaving Ladd to backhand the rebound past Anton Khudobin. It was Ladd's eighth goal and 16th point in 20 career games against the team that drafted him in 2004.
"It's always fun to score against your former team," said Ladd, who was a member of Carolina's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2006. "I get up for these games. You always have a little chip on your shoulder when you come back to a team that's traded you away. As a player, you want to use it as motivation in the right way."
Moments later, the Hurricanes had a prime opportunity to draw even. With Zach Bogosian already serving a hooking minor, the Jets were whistled for too many men on the ice, giving Carolina 52 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play. But the Jets held the Hurricanes to one shot before both penalties expired. John-Michael Liles had the best chance for Carolina, blasting a shot off the left post.
"The most important thing was the penalty killing in the second period, the 5-on-3," said Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 28 shots for his 18th win. "We blocked everything. [Adam] Pardy made a great block on [Alexander] Semin. That helped us get the win today."
For the game, the Hurricanes managed one shot in 5:09 of power-play time. The Jets did not skate with the man advantage.
Carolina forward Riley Nash pulled the Hurricanes even at 2:42 of the third. The Jets tied up Drayson Bowman's shot attempt from the slot, but the puck squirted free to Nash, who buried a quick shot past Pavelec for his seventh of the season.
As the game wound down, it was Trouba who pinched for a chance at the winner.
"Great confidence in the young man to want to make the play that decides the game," Maurice said. "To not sit back in a tie game and not make a mistake. He wants the puck on his stick."
The Hurricanes (25-21-9) lost for the fifth time in their last 16 games. In those five losses, however, they have scored just four goals.
"[Winnipeg] really protected the net," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "We're going to have to work hard to get those second and third chances. Two mistakes and it cost us two goals. Overall, I thought our guys played hard, competed, skated and did a lot of good things."
The Jets were very cognizant of what the game meant to their coach. Maurice coached 924 games during two stints with Carolina.
"Anytime you have a coach coming into a building where he coached a lot of games and has a lot of great memories, you know it's important to him," Ladd said. "But it was an important two points for us to get back into the playoff mix."
Maurice felt the same way about the value of the win, noting that he has been the opposing coach in Raleigh as the bench boss of the Toronto Maple Leafs. But he paused a moment when asked about winning in the building where he led Carolina to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final. Now back behind an NHL bench with his team racing up the standings, his humility was evident.
"We all care about each other in there," he said softly. "So I'm taking it."