The Winnipeg Jets wouldn't let their playoff hopes die -- not even when they went down three goals to the Washington Capitals in a game they couldn't afford to lose.
Tim Stapleton's goal 2:37 into overtime capped a Winnipeg comeback and gave the Jets a 4-3 victory on Friday night before a stunned sellout crowd at the Verizon Center.
"I saw us go into desperation mode," Stapleton said of his team's season-saving rally. "I don't think I've really seen that all year between us. We were just pressing and pressing and we stuck to the game plan, just throwing shots on net."
The Jets trailed 3-0 early in the second period after Alex Ovechkin scored twice in just over four minutes. But goals 1:11 apart by Ben Maxwell and Bryan Little got the Jets back in the game, and they dominated the third period before Spencer Machacek dove to deflect Maxwell's pass behind Michal Neuvirth with 3:45 left in regulation for his first NHL goal and a 3-3 tie.
Winnipeg, which outshot Washington 17-2 in the third period, had the only two shots in overtime -- and won it with the second one. Dustin Byfuglien cycled the puck to Stapleton in the left circle, and his high snap shot sailed past Neuvirth's glove for the win.
Three of the Jets' four goals came from the fourth line.
"We knew the extent of coming in right now, how it's a big playoff push," said Machacek, who was playing in just his fifth NHL game. "We were excited just to help out any way we can. It doesn't matter if we score the goals. We just want to get the team wins, and tonight's a start."
The Caps appeared to take their foot off the gas after jumping to the three-goal lead -- especially in the third period, when the Jets had the first 15 shots.
"It's stupid play by us," Ovechkin said. "We just totally stop playing after they score (the) first goal. And we played so different style of hockey in the third period, so they just put puck deep and get pressure and they score another one."
The victory gives the Jets 78 points, four behind eighth-place Washington and ninth-place Buffalo. The Jets have eight games remaining, one more than the Capitals and Sabres, who beat the Rangers 4-1 in New York.
The Caps opened the scoring at 16:06 of the first period, taking advantage of a bad pinch by Byfuglien. The big Winnipeg defenseman got caught, leaving partner Tobias Enstrom on his own to defend a 2-on-1 rush. Jeff Halpern's pass sent Jason Chimera in alone, and he beat Ondrej Pavelec with a backhand deke for his 18th of the season.
The Caps appeared to take command in the early stages of the second period thanks to Ovechkin, who connected twice in a span of 4:05 with a pair of classic Ovi goals.
He made it 2-0 at 1:42 by using a defenseman as a screen and snapping a shot past Pavelec, then hammered home a one-timer from the left faceoff dot at 5:47 off a perfect feed by Mathieu Perreault from the right corner. Ovechkin now has 35 goals, including eight in his last six games.
Coach Claude Noel then called his timeout.
"They came out strong early in the second period, and I think they smelled blood, -- they really looked like they were coming on," Noel said. "The momentum had really tilted. The reason I called the timeout was to get the momentum shifted, because it was clear they were generating some excitement on their own bench and we had to get it changed around."
Whatever Noel said worked wonders. Winnipeg's fourth line got the Jets on the board at 7:01 when Maxwell beat Neuvirth with a spinning backhander for his first of the season. Little made it 3-2 just 71 seconds later when he picked up the rebound of Enstrom's point shot off the post and slammed it home.
But the numbers were still against the Jets -- they were 0-22-3 when trailing after two periods, while the Caps were 22-0-0 when taking a lead into the third period.
An hour or so later, none of that mattered.
"I didn’t sense that we were demoralized," Noel said of his team's attitude after falling behind by three goals. "We got the one, and we needed that one. There was a lot of hockey to be played."
Neuvirth faced the first 15 shots of the third period and ended up with 38 saves. Washington had 23 shots at Pavelec, 14 of them in the second period.
"We took our foot off the gas," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We just fell apart pretty much. It was an embarrassing, embarrassing loss."