WINNIPEG – Finally the Winnipeg Jets are rolling two scoring lines, and the two-point nights are following.
The Jets won their third consecutive outing over four nights on Sunday evening at the MTS Centre, taking a critical two points in stomping the Colorado Avalanche, 5-1. Both clubs began the evening sitting at 62 points in their respective conferences and desperately needed to emerge with a win to remain firmly in playoff contention. Both clubs staged a very physical contest that threatened to boil over at different points in the third period.
Offensively troubled for most of the season, the Jets have now tallied 12 regulation goals over their last three contests in beating Minnesota, Boston and the Avalanche this week. The Jets have averaged 2.44 goals per game through 61 games this season, but are scoring at a 3.6 goals-per-game clip over their past five contests.
Winnipeg also found some much-needed success on the power play. With a 2-for-29 power play tailspin dating back to Jan. 23, the Jets twice solved the Avalanche penalty kill on five man-advantage opportunities.
"There were a lot of happy people on our bench -- and behind our bench," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "The power play finally got unclogged."
The Florida Panthers dropped a 2-0 decision on home ice to the Anaheim Ducks, stalling them at 65 points and allowing the Jets to edge past the Washington Capitals. A Dallas loss on Sunday night left the Stars stuck at 62 points in a tie with the Avalanche, but wins for Anaheim (60 points) and the Minnesota Wild (61 points) also leave the Avalanche facing heavy back pressure from both clubs. Colorado returns home to the Pepsi Center for a date with the Los Angeles Kings that will have major playoff implications in the Western Conference.
"It's a big loss this time of the year," said Matt Duchene, who made his return after missing 20 games with a knee injury.
The NHL's results on Sunday leave the Jets just one point behind the Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and a top-three slot in the Eastern Conference as they continue their season-high eight-game homestand on Tuesday night with a visit from the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I think we're playing tight games and coming out on top," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. “That's a big thing for sure. It's nice to see us put a few pucks in the net and get confidence in that area, too."
Despite being outshot by Colorado, 20-8, in the middle period, the Jets rang up three goals in a 9:43 span to tear open what had been a scoreless game after one period. The Jets built on their 3-1 lead at the second intermission with two more goals in the third period to turn the game into a rout and shut down a Colorado team that was tied for the NHL lead with six wins when trailing after two periods.
Bryan Little posted his second straight two-goal night and fourth such effort this season. Evander Kane, Kyle Wellwood and Ladd also scored for the Jets. Blake Wheeler spun off another four assists, setting a career high for points in one game and setting a new season high for points with 46. Kane, Wellwood, Wheeler and Burmistrov all ran their point streaks to three games each.
Ondrej Pavelec made his 50th appearance of the season and turned in a 31-save performance for the Jets.
"The thing that he gives me," Noel explained, "and I think our team, is that when you watch him, I don't get nervous watching him at the net. He certainly gives me a real sense of calm, composure and confidence. He looks like he's under control. It looks like the puck is going half-speed. He is in a good place right now."
Semyon Varlamov faced 25 shots from Winnipeg.
"I have to be better," Varlamov said.
Rookie Gabriel Landeskog supplied Colorado's only goal, the effort, missed coverages and untimely penalties left coach Joe Sacco frustrated.
"Overall we just weren't good enough in all areas of the game," Sacco said. "I don't think we had everybody here on deck tonight. In a big game like that, I would have expected a little bit more intensity from more guys.
"I think we got off-track tonight, and it showed tonight. I think there were a whole bunch of guys who weren't ready to play the way we needed them to play tonight."
The Jets struck twice in the opening 3:30 of the second period to build a 2-0 lead. First, Kane scooted past Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda behind the Colorado net, curved out into the slot and then backhanded a shot from between the hash-marks that beat Varlamov 1:45 into the period.
Little, who scored twice in the third period on Friday night in a 4-2 win over Boston, furthered the Winnipeg lead after Andrew Ladd flubbed an off-wing shot from the right circle that Varlamov and Erik Johnson failed to control. The rebound slid out to Little, who beat Ryan O'Reilly to the loose puck and pounded the rebound into the net before Varlamov could recover.
Back-to-back hooking penalties to Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn and Dustin Byfuglien allowed the Avalanche to gain control at the period's halfway point. Colorado put four shots on Pavelec during their second power play before Landeskog collected his 15th goal of the season and slice the Jets' lead to 2-1.
But the Jets re-established their two-goal advantage just 46 seconds later when Kane rocketed a shot high off the glass behind Varlamov that bounced to the side of the net, where Wellwood jammed the puck on his backhand behind the goaltender.
The Jets closed out Colorado with two man-advantage opportunities in the first 4:16 of the third period, finally striking on their fourth power play of the game when Wheeler controlled the puck along the end boards before pushing a pass to Ladd in the bottom of the left circle. Ladd one-timed the puck high and it slipped between Varlamov's right shoulder and the high post for a 4-1 lead. Little followed up with 4:19 left on the power play.
"It's huge if we can some confidence on that power play," Wheeler said, "because that can be the difference in some games down the road."