ST. LOUIS, MO - It's official: We've got ourselves a playoff race.
The Jets, who entered the night three points back of the St. Louis Blues for a wild-card playoff spot, closed the gap with a colossal 5-3 win in the opener of a three-game road trip Tuesday, and are now only one point in the mirror with 29 games left on the schedule.
Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele led the way offensively with three points apiece (1G, 2A), while Ondrej Pavelec made 24 saves.
Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba scored the other goals for Winnipeg.
"That's a team we're trying to catch in the standings, so it was an important game for us," Wheeler said. "It was great. We didn't give up a whole lot the entire game. There are lot of positives to take from it."
With the win, the Jets have now won eight straight games against the Central Division.
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
The Jets took a 3-2 lead into the third period and at the three-and-a-half minute mark, they knocked home the all-important insurance marker to lock up the victory.
Trouba made a great play at the defensive blue line to break up a rush by David Perron and turn it back up the other way. Wheeler then set him up for the one-timer, and Trouba's blast caromed off a skate and in to give the Jets a 4-2 lead.
Video: WPG@STL: Trouba's one-timer sneaks past Allen
Trouba was a monster, recording the goal, five shots, two hits and two takeaways in 24:53 of ice time.
"Jacob Trouba played one hell of a hockey game," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "He was big, strong and got stronger has the game went on. He got stronger as the game went on. He just keeps getting better.
"He's a young defenceman in this league and he comes back bigger and stronger over one summer. Now he understands what it takes to be a dominant defenceman in the game. It's just development. He was on a good curve, but now we're seeing it - he's more of a man and the minutes are justified for him. He's a big, strong man back there and he's driving the play defensive and offensively. When you cross your fingers and hope your defencemen are going to develop a certain way, that's the way they develop."
Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo scored to make it a one-goal game with 12 seconds left, but Wheeler found the empty net with three ticks on the clock to salt it away.
Alexander Steen opened the scoring for the Blues early in the first period, but the lead didn't last.
The Jets, who were far and away the better of the two teams in the period, evened things up a half-minute to play during 4-on-4 hockey. On a 2-on-1 created Toby Enstrom, Scheifele made a great sauce pass over to Wheeler before the captain returned the favour with equally filthy dish across the goalmouth, giving Scheifele a tap-in for his 23rd of the year.
Video: WPG@STL: Scheifele tallies on nifty passing play
Shots favoured the Jets 8-5 after one.
"It was an unusual game," Maurice said. "There was some strange defensive zone coverage from both teams, but we did a pretty good job letting Pav see the puck. … They cleared the front of the net pretty well, too."
Laine gave the Jets their first lead just 22 seconds into the middle frame, pulling him back into a tie with Scheifele for the team lead in goals. Laine took a centering pass from Scheifele and buried a beautiful shot five-hole from the bottom of the right circle.
The Jets padded the lead with a power-play goal at 5:53 as Ehlers took the puck from the right point, button-hooked, moved in and fired, picking the corner on Blues goalie Jake Allen with an incredible shot far side, just under the bar.
The Jets' fourth line had a glorious chance to put their team up by three on a breakaway-turned-3-on-1, but the puck eventually found its way to Nic Petan after Chris Thorburn and Brandon Tanev worked the give-and-go, Robby Fabbri came up with a kick save in the blue paint to Blues in the game.
That proved to be a pivotal moment as the Blues cut the deficit to one in the final minute of the period. Vladimir Tarasenko made a great play at the right point before dishing off, getting the puck back at the top circles and blistering a shot over the glove to make it a 3-2 game.
Pavelec shut it down after that, stopping 10 the rest of the way, including a couple showstoppers on Tarasenko.
"I'll include Connor in this, but there's been a settling of our goaltending (situation)," Maurice said. "Ondrej's come in, and even in the two losses he's been solid and there's a bit more confidence in front of him. The goaltending has had a real big impact. We're 4-2 since Pav has come up."
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com