WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets
needed two points against the St. Louis Blues
on Saturday to make sure they would end the day where they started it - on top of the Southeast Division.
They got just one -- and they're not.
Two second-period goals by Blake Wheeler
erased a two-goal St. Louis lead and send the game to the shootout, but 39 saves by Jaroslav Halak
and David Perron
's goal in the tiebreaker gave the Blues a 3-2 win at the MTS Centre.
The single point, combined with Florida's 3-2 shootout win at Carolina, left Panthers and Jets even with 68 points. Florida is on top of the division because it has played four fewer games, but the Jets (30-26-8) are one point in front of Washington for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East.
"We're happy to get a point out of it," Wheeler said. "We're happy we battled back against one of the better [Western Conference] teams."
Two days after winning a shootout at Nashville, Halak did it again at Winnipeg.
"Our goalie was our best player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He needed to be. This was a very, very difficult travel situation that we got in, and I'm really happy that we won the hockey game."
In all, Winnipeg fired 41 shots at Halak and matched their best shutdown effort of the season by limiting the Blues to 16 shots through 65 minutes. Winnipeg goaltender Chris Mason
only made 14 saves, though he had to be sharp in overtime.
The Blues got first-period goals from Perron and David Backes
, with T.J. Oshie
assisting on both. After Halak and Mason combined to deny the first seven attempts in the shootout, Perron won it by beating Mason with a high backhander.
"Not that we want nights like that, but the most important thing is we found a way to get the two points at the end," Perron said.
The Blues (38-17-7) moved within two points of the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings, who play Saturday night, and are only three behind the Vancouver Canucks for the overall League lead. They've won eight of their last 11 -- including the first two on a six-game road trip that continues in Calgary. St. Louis plays 13 of its last 20 away from the Scottrade Center.
"We put points in the bank with our home games at the start of the year," Hitchcock said, "and now we're having to pay for all of the home games. This is just the start of tough travel for us. So any points that we get on the road are really gratifying."
The effort also felt like a moral victory for Winnipeg after coming from behind against one of the NHL's elite teams. The Jets tied their franchise record for consecutive games without a regulation loss that was set during a 6-0-0 run in November 2010.
"We would have like to have two [points]," Jets coach Claude Noel said, "but I don't think we're really disappointed in the one.
"To me," Noel said, "the game that we played today is an identifying game where we can sit and say, 'That's one of the better games I've seen us play'. That's our 'A' game, and now we know where the bar is. Two weeks ago we could have gotten demoralized really poorly in this game. But we didn't. We re-grouped, we stuck with it, and we got rewarded."
St. Louis began the day having allowed 117 goals this season, the second-lowest total in the League. But the Jets wiped out a 2-0 St. Louis lead and outshot the Blues 33-10 through two periods -- a big achievement against a team that came into the game allowing just over 26 shots per game.
"They were shooting from everywhere, especially in the first two periods," Halak said. "But we were still able to stay in the game, and that's all you can ask for."
Noel elected to give Mason, a former Blue, only his third start this month after four busy games for workhorse Ondrej Pavelec
. But the Blues quieted the rambunctious Winnipeg crowd by scoring twice on only six shots in the opening 20 minutes.
St. Louis opened the scoring 7:43 into the game when Oshie and Andy McDonald
won a puck battle along the end boards behind Mason. Oshie's wraparound attempt failed, but he steered the puck into the low slot and Backes converted on a high shot for his team-leading 18th goal.
The Blues struck again in the first period's final minute when Patrik Berglund
directed a pass off the right boards on his backhand toward the Winnipeg net that Perron controlled before deking and tucking the puck behind Mason with 46 seconds remaining for a 2-0 advantage.
But the Jets took over the second period, using a 17-4 advantage in shots and a much stronger net presence to get even.
They got on the board at 7:19 when Evander Kane
's long shot from the high left boards kicked off Halak's left pad directly to Wheeler, who put home the rebound from the slot. Wheeler tied it at 15:14 when he popped home a rebound after some sustained Winnipeg pressure.
"I thought Blake Wheeler
was the best player on the ice for both teams by far," Noel said.
Hitchcock did not like seeing his team sit back in the second period after taking the 2-0 lead.
"I think that we get a lead," he said, "and we're trying to run the clock out instead of winning the game. It's something we have to discuss. You can't win on the road, you can't win anywhere when you're on your heels. When you get on your heels, it's really hard to get off."
Winnipeg continues its season-high eight-game homestand after the NHL Trade Deadline with a visit from the Edmonton Oilers. With games against the Oilers, Florida and Buffalo Sabres to close out the homestand, the Jets have an opportunity to pile up points against a trio of non-elite teams.
"We got a point," Mason said. "As long as we continue to get points, that's positive."