- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 17, 2012

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — As a player, Dale Hunter loved to live up to the line, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

As the Washington Capitals‘ coach Friday night, he conceded what his players insisted: that Winnipeg Jets forward Alexander Burmistrov held John Carlson’s stick on the game-winning goal. But he also praised Burmistrov for doing what it took to help the Jets emerge with a much-needed 3-2 victory.

“If you watch the replay, actually it was a great play by No. 8, Burmistrov; he held it for like five seconds,” Hunter said. “It was a great play, so Johnny couldn’t defend. They get the winning goal because of it. But it was a great play by the kid to do that.”

It was a play that might have just saved the Jets’ season. They cut the Capitals‘ lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference to two points instead of potentially falling out of the race altogether.

When one bounce and one goal is so huge, the Capitals weren’t in the least bit happy.

“One little play at the end when Johnny’s stick gets held in a four-on-four situation,” right wing Mike Knuble said. “The guy literally grabs a hold of his stick and creates a passing lane and they just bang it in.”

Carlson said he didn’t get a look at a replay but thought Burmistrov held his stick in front of the net. Replays appeared to show Burmistrov getting his left glove on Carlson’s stick.

Meanwhile, big defenseman Dustin Byfuglien out-muscled Karl Alzner streaking toward Tomas Vokoun and managed to tip the puck in and set off a nervous MTS Centre crowd.

“What happened was when their guy was coming down the wall, Carly was trying to get free so he could block the pass and Burmistrov was holding his stick, he said, for probably five seconds,” Alzner explained. “That’s why he couldn’t block the pass. And then trying to lift Byfuglien’s stick, it felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. I couldn’t get it off the ice.”

And the Capitals couldn’t put some separation between themselves and the Jets. And while Mike Knuble talked about missed opportunities, Hunter pointed to that play as the difference.

“It’s always one play in a game and that was the play,” the coach said. “It was a four-on-four and Johnny couldn’t defend.”