WINNIPEG – The Ottawa Senators took another step toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday night and all but ended the Winnipeg Jets' hopes of receiving a similar invitation next month.
The Senators finally knocked off a desperate and determined Winnipeg club with a 6-4 win at the MTS Centre. The win moved Ottawa to within two points of the sixth-place New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins also reside only three points ahead of the Senators, though they hold two games in hand on Ottawa.
"Every day, we learn something new about our players," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "Pressure creates diamonds, and it creates havoc. This is when the game is on the line, and you really find out who can play under the gun and who can make a play with poise under the gun. So, we're really learning a lot about our players."
The Jets, meanwhile, remain adrift at 78 points and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Winnipeg is six points off the playoff pace. Washington and Buffalo, eighth and ninth in the Eastern Conference, respectively, meet on Tuesday. The Jets also face four-game road trip that begins later this week, and they have won only 12 games away from Winnipeg this season.
In a game in which the Jets erased three Ottawa leads and registered a season-high 48 shots, Winnipeg had poured 16 third-period shots on Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson when the Jets erased the third Ottawa lead of the game. Evander Kane pushed a bouncing puck past Anderson with 2:57 remaining in regulation that tied the game at 4-4.
However, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson swept a rebound past Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec only 24 seconds later to retake a one-goal lead. Alfredsson's goal, his second of the game, gave Ottawa its second lead of the period. Milan Michalek closed out the Jets with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
"Sometimes you get a little bit of confidence at the right spot," Alfredsson said. "Fortunately for us, it was good timing on the goals. Everybody worked extremely hard. (Anderson) was really solid, especially down the stretch. It's a huge two points for us."
The game's up-and-down pace left the Jets frustrated against an Ottawa club possessing ample firepower to play that style.
"I don't think you can trade chances with their team and expect that you are going to win the game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "If you want to get in a horse race against them, this is how the game ends up."
The win left MacLean pleased with his club’s resiliency against the pesky Jets.
"It was an old Smythe Division game from my days in the 1980s," said MacLean, who played for the Jets during their first stay in Winnipeg. "Next goal wins, up and down the rink.
"(Winnipeg) kept coming back. They kept coming back, and we could never put them away. It's a credit to them and then to our team that we kept coming back as well. I thought that both teams showed a ton of character, and I think that both teams showed that they're young, and there is some growing left to do."
Only 1:30 after Anderson stopped Kyle Wellwood's penalty shot early in the third period, the Senators broke a 3-3 tie and took the lead for the third time in the contest. Erik Karlsson, who finished with three assists, picked off a cross-ice pass from Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian inside the Winnipeg zone. Karlsson steered the puck to Alfredsson in front of the Winnipeg net, and Alfredsson tucked the puck around Pavelec's left pad.
Chris Neil, Kaspars Daugavins, and Kyle Turris supplied the rest of the Ottawa goal production. Anderson turned in a 44-save performance for the Senators in logging his first full game since Feb. 22. Anderson missed 12 games with a hand injury before returning last week. Back on Nov. 29, Anderson had stopped 39 of 43 Winnipeg shots in a win at the MTS Centre.
"I thought that he battled really hard," MacLean said of his goaltender. "I thought he was really competitive. I thought that he held his ground and battled for the whole game and really gave us an opportunity to win."
But Anderson steered the praise back toward his teammates.
"Resiliency," he replied when asked what he liked best about the win. "We never quit."
The loss wasted another strong performance from Winnipeg's Antti Miettinen, who posted his second two-goal night in as many home games. Earlier this month, Miettinen picked up his first two goals of the season in a loss against Carolina. Wellwood had the other Winnipeg tally and chipped in two assists. Pavelec, making his 12th consecutive start, made 29 saves on Ottawa's 34 shots.
Ottawa struck in the first period's final minute and went into the first intermission up 1-0. Spezza spun past Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart inside the right circle and lifted a shot that Pavelec fumbled. Neil crashed the net, outmaneuvered Winnipeg's Randy Jones for the rebound, and stuck it under Pavelec.
The Senators built their lead only 1:23 into the second period when Daugavins cut across the slot from the right boards, turned Ron Hainsey and Bogosian inside-out and beat Pavelec with a high shot for a 2-0 Ottawa lead.
But Winnipeg responded after the Daugavins goal during the Jets' second power play when Miettinen jabbed a rebound that trickled between Anderson and the right post at 3:02. Wellwood continued Winnipeg's momentum and tied the game at 2-2 just under four minutes later when Kane whipped around the back of the Ottawa net, delivered a cross-slot feed to the left circle that Wellwood converted before Anderson could cut across his crease.
Ottawa reclaimed its lead late in the period when Spezza, who had taken two tripping minors earlier in the period, danced past three Winnipeg defenders and backhanded a pass from in-close that Turris tapped into an empty net with 2:34 remaining in the period.
The Jets again replied quickly after an Ottawa goal when Miettinen picked up his second goal of the game. Jim Slater pulled a puck off the Ottawa end boards, sent it out front, and Miettinen stuffed it past Anderson 20 seconds after Turris had scored.
Winnipeg's loose defensive play left Pavelec frustrated.
"I don't think this is the hockey that is going to take us to the playoffs," Pavelec said. "I don't know what to say. Last (home) game against Carolina (a loss on March 18), same thing. How many games we lost like that? So many games."