WINNIPEG - If you'd told him a week ago that in just a few days time, he'd be leading the Winnipeg Jets onto the ice in consecutive games, and setting a new franchise record in the second of those victorious outings, Ondrej Pavelec wouldn't have believed you.
Pavelec made 34 saves, including a franchise-high 25 in the second period alone, while Bryan Little (2), Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers manufactured the offence in a pivotal 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues.
"That's the way it goes," Pavelec said with a big, wide smile. "In the next week, I could be in the minors again. I go day-by-day and every time I get a chance to play, I give my best and see what happens."
The record Pavelec beat was his own, set in October of 2009 when he made 24 saves in a single period.
The mark isn't terribly important to him, but the win certainly is; and in the two games he's played since being recalled from the Manitoba Moose, the 29-year-old has a couple of W's, along with a .914 save percentage.
"They just told me [about the record] 30 seconds ago. That's nice," he said with a laugh.
"The guys cleared up the rebounds really well. They let me see the puck. But (the Blues) hit the post twice, too, so you've got to be lucky."
Video: STL@WPG: Pavelec slides across crease to rob Schwartz
With the game tied 1-1 early in the second period, Wheeler put the Jets - who scored the game's opening tally - back in front with a filthy goal at 1:27 to record the first of five unanswered to take over the contest.
From the seat of his pants after working doggedly on the half wall, Mathieu Perreault got the puck back to Dustin Byfuglien, who showed great vision finding Wheeler lone at the side of the net. The captain made no mistake, slamming it home at the far post for his 15th of the year.
It won't show up on the score sheet, but Little's work on the back check made the entire thing possible, creating a turnover just inside the offensive blue line before supporting Perreault's efforts along the boards.
Video: STL@WPG: Wheeler buries nice feed from Byfuglien
Little's recent play has repeatedly earned the praise of his head coach, and it was no different today, and in particular on the power play, with Maurice offering this take on his heady No. 1 pivot:
"His line, on back-to-back nights, has been absolutely spectacular."
In particular, his ability to move the puck on the power play has been a huge asset since his return from a season-opening knee injury, along with a hefty bout with the flu last week.
"He's the key piece to it," Maurice said. "He's a really smart, nifty player with the puck, and he can finish, and he's got a chemistry with those guys.
"From the time he came back, we've got to be running at 20 percent. Even on nights when we don't score, we're getting time in (the offensive zone) and that's the difference in the game."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
Little added the insurance at 2:10 of the third, scoring his second PPG of the afternoon to give the Jets a 3-1 lead. Wheeler made a great pass off the rush and Little did the rest at the top of the right circle, firing his 10th of the year past Copley.
The Jets finished the game 3-for-5 on the power play.
"We have three or four guys touching the puck before it goes in the puck of the net," Little said. "I say it all the time but that has a lot to do with confidence. It's not like we're doing too much. We're making plays when they're there and we have the confidence to do it. You're seeing it these past few games with some nice goals and nice passing plays."
Scheifele added one more at 6:21, chopping home a loose puck on a delayed penalty, increasing his team-leading point total to 45 (21G, 24A) in this, his 45th game, before Ehlers rounded the scoring with the Jets' third PPG of the day - a slapper off the wing - at 11:05.
Paul Stastny and Kevin Shattenkirk cut into the lead with a couple quick ones late, but by then the damage had been done.
Pavelec wasn't overly busy in the first 25 minutes, but he was excellent when called upon midway through the second when the tide shifted in St. Louis' favour.
Among many great saves in a heavily tilted middle frame, his best came hot off the stick of Jaden Schwartz, who took a pass from Vladimir Tarasenko and rifled a one-timer flat along the ice. Pavelec went post-to-post and made a wonderful stop with the left toe to keep the Jets in front.
"They made a push and we tried sticking with it, but they had their chances and their shots," Little said. "Pavs played great when we needed him to make some saves and he kept us in the game, and that's what got us going a bit.
"He's done that the past few games for us and has given us a chance to win. We couldn't ask for more."
Video: POSTGAME | Bryan Little
A breath-taking breakaway save on Colton Parayko late in the stanza capped a franchise record 25-save period for the Winnipeg netminder.
"We take three (penalties) in the second and they're all over us," Maurice said. "He made good saves. He's solid, he's quick, he's fighting to find them, (and) he made two or three really big saves and that kept us up by one."
The other guy was no slouch, either. At the other end immediately after, Copley turned in what could be the save of the year, robbing Perreault with a ridiculous left-pad save on a 2-on-1 with Wheeler.
The Blues outshot the Jets 25-11 in the period.
Perreault had another glorious chance late in the third when Wheeler found him again, alone at the side of the net, but his one-timer caught a big chunk of the crossbar before going out of play.
"It was just a glorious chance and it seems like I'm struggling to find the back of the net right now," Perreault said. "These things happen and I'm just going to stick with it because the chances are there and eventually they're going to go in."
Little opened the scoring on the power play with a tip-in at 7:47 of the first period. Dustin Byfuglien hammered a one-timer from the top of the near circle, and Little got a piece of it at the edge of the blue paint, beating Blues goalie Pheonix Copley, who was making the first start of his NHL career.
"Even before we started scoring we were doing good things, getting our chances," Little said of the power play, which has been red-hot of late. "Getting a few definitely helps the confidence and you can see it on the ice right now. We're a lot more confident group when we're getting set up."
The Jets were all over the Blues early on, recording 10 of the first 12 shot attempts, including six that landed on goal in the first 12-and-a-half minutes, but a Nic Petan penalty proved costly, as the Blues tied the game on just their third shot at 13:18.
Paul Stastny made a great play, sending a beautiful over Kevin Shattenkirk, who fired it home from the bottom of the far circle as Pavelec dove across, but to no avail.
The teams combined for only three shots the rest of the way, with the Jets leading 8-4 after one.
"I felt a little bit better," Pavelec said of the comparison to his first game three nights ago. "The guys did a great job in the first period. We shut them down for most of the period but they had some nice passing on the power play to score that one goal, but I felt a little better than I did in the game before."
LATE HITS: Drew Stafford left the game late in the second period and did not return with a lower-body injury. There was no update on his condition after the game.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com