The Winnipeg Jets kicked off a critical three-game road trip with a gargantuan effort Monday night, defeating Devan Dubnyk and the wild card-leading Minnesota Wild 2-0 at Xcel Energy Center. Drew Stafford and Minnesota native Blake Wheeler did the damage offensively, while Ondrej Pavelec made 32 saves for his third shutout of the season and the 14th of his career.
With the win, the Jets improve to 41-26-12 for 94 points and are now back in a playoff spot, one point up on the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames with three games to play.
The Jets are now only two points back of the Wild.
“It was a big one,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “We knew what it meant for them and what it means for us. It’s not anything new. We’re used to playing these games now and are a little more comfortable with where we’re at.
“Huge win. On to the next one tomorrow.”
The Jets are right back in action tomorrow night against the St. Louis Blues.
Quick starts have been a theme for the Jets all season and tonight was no different. Redirecting a shot off the skate of Minnesota defenceman Marco Scandella, Wheeler opened the scoring with a power-play goal four-and-a-quarter in, giving the Jets a 1-0 lead for the 48th time in 79 games.
The Jets are now tied with the New York Islanders for the number of times they’ve scored first this season.
“Getting on the board early was huge to take the crowd out of it,” Wheeler said. “It’s a pretty crazy atmosphere in here, especially with the success these guys have had, they’re excited about their team. … That was a good effort. I thought we were strong throughout the game and stuck with it. They were trying to draw us into some [extracurricular] stuff. Obviously we don’t back down much out there, but there’s something to be said about keeping your composure at this time of the year. If you’ve got to take a punch every once in a while to get a power-play, those are the things that factor into wins.”
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 16-9 after one period of play.
Thomas Vanek hammered a shot off the iron early in the second period, preserving the one-goal advantage.
The Jets had a glorious chance to extend to a 2-0 lead, but after a beautifully choreographed play by Wheeler and Stafford, Mark Scheifele whiffed on the empty net, sending the play back the other way. Wheeler was forced to take a slashing penalty on the ensuing 3-on-1, putting the Wild on the power-play.
“They play hard, so there are going to be mistakes and chances against, but we started doing things the right way pretty quickly,” Maurice said. “There were stretches where they had puck control in our own end, but for the most part, our structure was good.”
Thanks to some sensational goaltending by Pavelec, the Wild were kept off the board. The Masterton nominee first robbed six-time 30-goal scorer Zach Parise with the glove before offering a similar fate to Mike Koivu, teeing up the most important goal of the season shortly thereafter.
Capitalizing on a loose puck in the slot, Stafford rifled a shot under the arm of the goaltender, giving the Jets the all-important two-goal lead at 13:10. Tyler Myers recorded the primary assist after joining the rush and putting the initial shot on goal.
“All game long I was able to see the puck,” Pavelec said.
Equally thrilled with his goaltender’s heroics, Maurice agreed.
“A big part of (the shutout) was how he handled the shots,” he said. “The rebounds weren’t as dangerous because he controlled so many. He kicked a lot to the corners that we were able to recover on.”
The Jets surrendered 11 shots in the third, but Pavelec was there to preserve the shutout.
“Any time you need to string a few wins together, you need your goaltender to play really well,” Ladd said. “He’s been outstanding for us and anytime there’s been a breakdown, he’s been there to bail us out. In big games, that’s what you need.