- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2012

Brooks Laich made no secret of his disdain for the Jets last week in Winnipeg when he said, point-blank, “We don’t like them.” The Washington Capitals’ forward couldn’t wait to see the Jets again.

The Caps were up 3-0 on Friday night when they lost the shutout on a goal by Ben Maxwell 7:01 into the second period. That’s OK, it’s just one goal, and Laich dropped the gloves with Jim Slater off the ensuing faceoff.

“It wasn’t something that was premeditated or anything,” Laich said. “It just happened over a scrum in a faceoff.”

Fighting with a lead is usually not a good idea, and though Laich probably won the fight, he might’ve set a chain of events in motion that caused the Capitals to lose the game. Just over a minute later, Winnipeg scored again, and Jets coach Claude Noel said the bout was the difference.

“The spark that really came on for me was the Slater fight. That’s really what got us going,” Noel said. “If you look after that fight that he had, I think it was really clear that our team got energized from that, just from a team standpoint that somebody stepped up. That was probably a turning point in the game because we started to go a lot then.”

The third period was all Jets, as they outshot the Caps 17-2 and tied the score with just 3:45 left. Washington “seemed to be panicking,” according to forward Jason Chimera, and Winnipeg pounced. The end result was a 4-3 Jets overtime win, as the Caps blew a three-goal lead for the first time all season.

Asked about the fight afterward, Laich might have been forced to second-guess the decision.

“Looking back, I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have. It’s just something that happens in the course of the game,” he said. “Maybe the timing on my part wasn’t right. I don’t know. It’s tough to say.”

Capitals coach Dale Hunter, a veteran of plenty of fights during his NHL career and certainly plenty with his team holding a lead, defended Laich for trying to recapture momentum.

“It was 3-1 at the time. They were starting to turn it, so he tried to turn it back,” Hunter said. “It’s a hockey move, and Brooksie did it, so it was good to try to change the tide.”

It didn’t work in any way. Instead, it might have saved the Jets’ season.

“I think that really showed the rest of the players, the rest of the team that we need to battle here, we need to keep going,” Noel said. “I thought that was a real statement.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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