BUFFALO – The road will not get any easier this month for the Winnipeg Jets, but they prevented it from turning worse on Saturday night.
Johnny Oduya rifled a shot past Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth 57 seconds into overtime to give the Jets a 2-1 win and snap a two-game losing streak as their season reached its midpoint.
"I don't get into that spot too many times," Oduya said. "I just pretty much wanted to shoot high and get a good shot up. It looked pretty good, so I'm happy."
Evander Kane set up the winning goal with a perfect offensive-zone feed to Oduya, who was cruising through the middle of the ice. Oduya moved into the left circle before firing a shot over Enroth's glove hand and spoil a 39-save performance by Enroth. The win helped the Jets (20-16-5) slip past the Washington Capitals into the Eastern Conference's ninth slot while the Sabres remain anchored in 11th place.
"We're OK," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "We're in the hunt. That's where we need to be."
The win was the first in three games on the road this week for the Jets, who were outscored 11-3 in losses at Montreal and Toronto. They will need to play well on the road this month; nine of their 13 games are away from the cozy MTS Centre, where the Jets went 9-2-1 in December and own the NHL's fifth-best home record.
"We're in a dogfight and we're over .500," Noel said. "We're doing some things well, and we're happy to be where we are. We're not sitting here being satisfied. We've got this month of January that is going to be a big test for us. We've got to come out of this thing in a good place. We want to get at least a .500 record, so it's good we won this thing tonight."
Prior to their rocky start to the trip, the Jets had established better road play as a major goal for the second half. The Jets' five road wins entering Saturday's game were the third-fewest in the League.
"We got back to the way we play at home," Oduya said. "We can be just as good a team on the road as at home, and I think we showed that tonight."
Ondrej Pavelec, whom the Montreal Canadiens dented for six goals in the opening game of the Jets' four-game road trip earlier this week, returned to the crease after sitting out Thursday in Toronto. Pavelec made 31 saves, allowing only a power-play goal by Tyler Myers midway through the second period. Blake Wheeler tied the game for Winnipeg with five seconds left in the middle period, and a scoreless third period set up overtime.
Late in the third period, it appeared that Buffalo had taken a 2-1 lead when Ville Leino knocked a loose puck sitting on Pavelec's left pad into the net just as the whistle blew. The officials waved off the goal, and the play added to the frustration of an already-impatient Buffalo crowd.
"It's probably the right call to make," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said "We put it away, so we automatically think it should have been a goal, but the ref is in a tough spot and he has to make a quick decision and he decided to blow the whistle."
Pavelec offered his own take on the play.
"I had it between my pads," Pavelec said. "No way. No goal. I heard the whistle."
While the crowd loudly voiced its displeasure with the call, coach Lindy Ruff nor Leino offered any excuses.
‘I didn't think that we had very good net presence on a couple of shots that were coming through traffic," Ruff said of the Sabres' night. "I thought that we passed up a couple of good ones. We missed the net on a couple of good ones."
"We had some desperation in the third to win the hockey game," Leino added, "and we should have had that from the start."
The Sabres returned to Buffalo having lost their sixth consecutive road game, a 4-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. But home ice had treated the Sabres well, and they had collected points in their previous five dates in Buffalo prior to meeting the Jets.
And though they reached the midway point of their season at 18-18-5, a second-half resurgence would not be out of the question for the Sabres, who began the 2011 calendar year stuck in 12th place in the Eastern Conference before going 28-11-6 to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. The month of January and the Sabres have found harmony in recent years, as Buffalo had gone 26-11-4 in January dating back to the 2008-09 season entering the contest.
After a scoreless first period, the clubs traded second-period goals.
A hard Sabres forecheck forced the Jets into penalty trouble halfway through the second period when Wheeler went off for hooking Brad Boyes in front of the Winnipeg net. After mounting heavy pressure in the Winnipeg zone on their second power play, the Sabres outmuscled the Jets down low. Myers, who returned Friday after missing 19 games with a broken wrist, slipped into the low slot and nudged Pominville's left-corner pass past Pavelec at 11:08 for a power-play goal.
Back-to-back Buffalo penalties in the final 1:05 of the second period enabled the Jets to avoid going into the second intermission down a goal. After the Jets worked the puck around the points, Wheeler smacked home a loose puck at 19:55 to pull the Jets even -- a good thing, considering that they are 0-13-2 when trailing after two periods.
Like the Jets, the Sabres have their own heavy road itinerary to handle this month. Nine of the Sabres' next 10 games are away from home, so Ruff opted to have Enroth provide Ryan Miller with a breather. Enroth had turned in 44-save performance against Ottawa on New Year's Eve in his most recent start.
"I'm feeling good," Enroth said. "Two strong games back-to-back. It feels good, but obviously you want to win games, too, so it's mixed feelings."