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Jets hold on to defeat Canucks, get 40th win

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – With a critical two points on the line in the penultimate home game of the 2014-15 regular season, the Winnipeg Jets did what they needed do – and boy, was it fun.

Lee Stempniak scored twice and Mathieu Perreault tallied three assists as the Jets knocked off the visiting Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon. The home side had leads of 1-0, 2-0, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3 and 5-3, ultimately winning the nail-biter, 5-4.

No one said it was going to be easy.

Jim Slater, Michael Frolik and Mark Scheifele had the others offensively, while Ondrej Pavelec stopped 26 of 30.

The Jets have now won 40 games on the year, a feat last achieved in 2006-07 when the franchise was known as the Atlanta Thrashers.

“There was no easy breathing in that one, but it’s good to win a game like that,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said.

“It was a good win. We’ve got four (games) left and they’re all going to be played with that same intensity.

“The parts of the game that we were effective with what we wanted to do, it looked real clean. There were some other parts… They’ve got an active group and it’s a challenge to sort it out. But we sorted it out just enough.”

The Jets got the desired start as a pair of early goals put them up by two. The Canucks rallied back to tie it up before the period was out, but a late goal by Stempniak gave the Jets a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes of play.

Slater opened the scoring at 4:34, recording his fifth of the season and third in four games on a bit of a scrambled play in front. Positioned at the corner of the crease after following up on his own rebound, Slater slapped home a 25-foot feed from Jiri Tlusty, capitalizing on the sprawling efforts of Eddie Lack.

Frolik put the Jets up by two with his 18th of the season less than a minute later. Finishing off the attack from Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault in tight, Frolik’s one-time shot somehow eluded traffic en route, beating the blinded goaltender.

Outshot 12-3 in the front half of the opening 20, the visitors cut the lead in half with a power-play goal at 9:37. Henrik Sedin was the beneficiary of an active end-board bounce, beating Pavelec to a loose puck in the blue paint and promptly deploying a shot into the empty net.

Daniel Sedin tied it up at 17:37 as he converted a beautiful, behind-the-back pass by Radim Vrbata, but the Jets were once again quick to strike, taking a 3-2 lead with 1:47 to play as Stempniak redirected a Perreault shot past Lack.

The Jets had a 16-11 advantage in shots after one period of play.

“Our season’s on the line,” Stempniak said. “Every game is crucial for us right now and we’re well aware of that, but the coaches have been preaching that we’re hopefully going to be playing bigger games as we go along, so we better get used to them. Deal with the pressure, manage it, and at the same time, have fun. It’s an easy thing to say, but hard to do at times. But we’re playing in the best league in the world and we’re playing games that have so much impact on the standings.

“It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of pressure but I think we’re doing a good job of finding a balance.”

Stempniak has five goals (including three in his last two games) and eight points in 14 games as a Jet.

With a number of odd-man rushes given up, Pavelec was enormous when he had to be. His best save came late in the middle frame when Vrbata was sprung on a breakway. The two-time 30-goal scorer deked to his backhand, but the Jets’ Masterton Nominee stayed right with him, kicking out the right pad.

“We put ourselves in a tough spot, but we got the two points and that’s all that matters,” Pavelec said. “We want to play better defensively, but those games happen. You can’t expect us to play 82 games like we did against Chicago. It’s impossible, but we played against a very good team tonight. They can do some damage in your zone and that’s what they did.”

The teams traded goals in the final minute of the second as the Jets took a 4-3 lead into the third period.

First, it was Scheifele scoring with 55.6 seconds left on a shot Lack would like to have back. Then, only eight ticks later, Alexandre Burrows beat Pavelec on a breakaway, tucking a forehand shot into the open side to make it a one-goal game once again.

Not to worry.

Stempniak iced it with his second of the game with 10:24 to play. Dangling in tight after receiving a pass from Perreault, Stempniak slid a shot five-hole to make it a 5-3 game.

“We’re playing well together,” Perreault said. “Lee’s a great shooter and (Adam Lowry) gets in hard on the forecheck. If we can do that and get on the forecheck like we did, we can be very effective. We like to get pucks deep and get banging on their D. We did that well, were able to create some turnovers and get goals from it.”

“Lee’s a real good shooter. Adam can control, get in and create enough offence with his size, and Matty Perreault a key piece to what those guys do,” Maurice said of the line’s seemingly instant chemistry. “Matty has that ‘Frolik Factor.’ Wherever we play him, that line seems to generate offence.”

Burrows added one late as the Canucks poured it on, but the Jets held on.

LATE HITS: Toby Enstrom left the game late in the third period after a collision with Canucks forward Derek Dorsett. “He felt better after (the game) than after it happened, but we’ll have a better idea tomorrow afternoon,” Maurice said.

The Jets practice at 11am at MTS Centre before departing for St. Paul, Minnesota.

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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