WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets have been preaching it for some time now, but with one of the teams they're chasing - the St. Louis Blues - on the other side facing similar obstacles, but with a handful of games in hand, there was no room for error.
So they didn't make any.
Two goals from Blake Wheeler, another from Bryan Little, and 29 saves from Connor Hellebuyck led the Jets to an impeccable 3-0 win in front of a boisterous Friday night crowd at MTS Centre.
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
The Jets are now only four points back of the Los Angeles Kings for the second and final wild-card playoff spot.
"The importance of this game was evident throughout the last two days of practice," Wheeler said. "After that Minny game there was a sour taste in the room. We didn't really play our best game but we had an opportunity to salvage something. At this time of year you can't miss out on those opportunities. I really liked our practice the day after that. That might have been an easy one to maybe take off, lick your wounds and watch some video, but we got after it and it really set the table for tonight's game."
With the Jets leading 1-0 with 2:15 left in the third period, Little showed great hustle to chase down a loose puck, lifting the stick of Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo before stuffing it into the empty net to secure the victory.
Video: STL@WPG: Little shows off speed on empty-net goal
With Carter Hutton still on the bench, Wheeler rounded out the scoring with a bouncer from centre at 18:51.
"You could tell we were ready to play right from the start," Little said. "Our effort, our compete level, and how hard we were on pucks - we were ready.
"Even as we got down to the final few minutes of the game, we looked comfortable. We made a pretty good press and they had some zone time, trying to get something going, but I thought we did a good job of trying to keep them to the outside and just talking things out in our own end."
Video: POSTGAME | Bryan Little
Jacob Trouba drew back into the lineup after serving a two-game suspension, and he did not miss a beat. The 23-year-old was easily the best player on the ice, recording an assist, two shots and a game-high six hits in nearly 25 minutes of ice time.
"Jake started well this year and continued to build, and build and build," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "He was a dominant force on the ice. He as physical along the boards, he was skating up the ice and now he's on the power play. We missed him drastically. You don't want to say that as a coach when he's out, but having him back with Josh (Morrissey), that's a hell of a young pair on D."
These two teams will hook up once more on Apr. 4 to conclude their season series, with the Jets hoping to complete the five-game sweep.
"That's what's good about these games. Higher pressure, higher intensity," Maurice said. "We had that going into the break, and we're on the right track with the style of game that we're playing. (The players) understand the importance of it."
Wheeler opened the scoring for the Jets with a power-play goal at 10:51 of the first, blowing a one-timer through traffic from well out at the centre point. Winnipeg showed some excellent puck movement prior to the goal, the result of a new umbrella power-play structure that sees Wheeler up top, while Mathieu Perreault and Dustin Byfuglien distribute off the half walls.
Video: STL@WPG: Wheeler blisters Perreault's feed for PPG
"We had two power plays at the end of the Minny game and we were just really stagnant," Maurice said. "Tonight, we were freeing those guys up top to get some motion in their game to open up the seems, which is Blake's goal - it opens up a clean shot up top because of the motion."
The Jets were all over the Blues in the middle frame, and had multiple chances to extend the lead in the first 10 minutes alone. Wheeler had the best one of all as he worked the give-and-go on a 2-on-1 with Nikolaj Ehlers, but he rifled a shot off the far post.
Overall, and after trading a pair of odd-man breaks on a late Blues power play, the Jets outshot the visitors 19-8 in the period.
Hellebuyck, who wasn't overly busy through two, locked it down in the third.
"I felt really good the last game, but they got five and that's not OK," he said. "The fact that I felt good, I knew that I was going to bounce back, that I was playing the right way and that I'm going to continue to play the right way. Having this game right after is key because it showed everyone that I do have what it takes."
The Jets are back in action tomorrow night against the Colorado Avalanche. Maurice would not confirm if Hellebuyck will be given the start, or if he'll turn to either Michael Hutchinson or Ondrej Pavelec (if he's able) in this back-to-back situation.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com