Wheeler intercepted a pass by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman in the Jets offensive zone and sent a wrist shot around the block attempt of Anton Stralman and past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
"I just got a good bounce," Wheeler said. "They had been going [defenseman-to-defenseman] all night so I had a read on it. I stuck my stick out and hit it. Sometimes you get lucky out there. It was a team effort though. We really did it on defense and made the plays when we needed to on offense."
Drew Stafford also scored in the third period to help the Jets (34-23-12) move one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. The Kings lost 2-1 to the Nashville Predators later Saturday.
"We were on them early, our forecheck was there," Stafford said. "We were pressuring their D at the point and making them hurry with the puck. We were making sure that they were frustrated and had a lack of offense."
The Jets held the Lightning to a season-low 16 shots on goal.
"They didn’t get a whole lot of offensive chances with rushes," Jets defenseman Paul Postma said. "They are a team that thrives on turnovers and we didn’t have many tonight. We clogged up the neutral zone pretty well, didn’t let them gain momentum with speed coming up the ice."
Nikita Kucherov scored for the Lightning (42-21-7), who lost at home for the seventh time this season and trail the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers by two points for first place in the Eastern Conference.
"We were playing a really desperate hockey team and they played a playoff-style game," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "They really wanted to win and they did. Not saying we didn’t want to win the game, but we didn’t match anything they brought to the table. They were just stronger, faster, hungrier and we couldn’t match it."
However, Kucherov was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct at 8:01 for sending Winnipeg defenseman Toby Enstrom into the boards face-first. Enstrom had to be helped off the ice while bleeding from his forehead, but was able to return.
"We’ve been pretty good at coming back lately," Postma said. "That’s a heck of a goal by [Wheeler] and a couple of big penalty kills too. It’s a full team effort and [Pavelec] stood on his head."
The Jets capitalized on the extended power play to tie the game at 10:00 when Stafford scored on a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Vasilevskiy from a sharp angle. It was Stafford’s 14th goal; Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty got the assists.
"It’s always tough when you kill a five-minute penalty there," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "You know that late in the game whether it’s a one-goal game, two-goal game, a five-minute [penalty kill] is always tough on a team. But that shouldn’t change anything. We should have kept going."
Pavelec made 15 saves and is 14-14-7.
"We fought hard to get pucks back and block shots, when we didn’t do that our goalie made the saves," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "We moved the puck out of our end really well, all four center ice men did a good job of staying with the puck."