After missing almost three months with a significant knee injury, Ondrej Pavelec returned to the ice in a big way Saturday, stopping 21 shots in regulation and overtime, before stopping another two – including Connor McDavid – in the shootout to help the Jets to a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers in their final visit to Rexall Place.
Blake Wheeler scored the Jets’ lone goal of the night before adding another in the shootout, while Andrew Ladd finished things off.
Rookie goaltender Laurent Brossoit got the start – the second of his NHL career – for Edmonton with Cam Talbot out with an illness, and he was equally good, but couldn’t come up with that final save as Ladd whipped the winning goal past him in Round 2.
“I loved what we did tonight,” Wheeler said. “You limit that team to 15 to 20 shots for most of the game, that’s a pretty good effort.
“It was 60 minutes. Just because they got one break and scored on it doesn’t take away from the effort tonight. I think we should be proud with our intentions coming into the game tonight, because it can be pretty easy to play up and down with these guys, and we don’t win that game [if we do].”
The Jets are now on a four-game road winning streak.
“We were real good through 50 minutes of hockey, and maybe even longer,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Our goaltender – when we made some mistakes – there’s the difference. On the road, that guy made those saves.
“The guys did a good job of letting him break it in early and not see anything too dangerous, and then he settled in. He looked real solid. He wasn’t moving too much. He looked like a veteran.”
McDavid – the story coming in – finished the night -1 with four shots in a little more than 20 minutes of ice time.
Wheeler opened the scoring for the Jets at 7:15 of the second period as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Nikolaj Ehlers. The Dane took a beautiful outlet pass from Bryan Little at centre before flying past a defender and sliding a pretty feed over to Wheeler, who made no mistake, firing a shot over the glove of the sliding goalie.
“Offensively, I’m not going to say a word to (Ehlers),” Wheeler said. “I’m not going to tell him what to do with the puck, because he was born with some amazing ability. If I can tell him a thing or two here and there – situationally – to try and help him … I’ll do my best to do that, but other than that I let him do his thing because he really is special with the puck.”
On a Jets power play not long after, Oilers forward Teddy Purcell bolted in on a shorthanded break, but his backhand deke was emphatically denied by Pavelec’s left pad. He was at it again late in the period, flashing the leather on a pinching Justin Schultz, who tried to pick the corner in close.
In the shootout, he made a terrific stop off Matt Hendricks to keep his team in the driver’s seat.
“It feels good. It was nice to be back after three months. I really enjoyed it,” Pavelec said.
The Jets were otherwise dominant in the middle frame, outshooting the Oilers 11-6 and getting the bulk of the scoring chances.
Hendricks tied the game with a shorthanded goal midway through the third. After a collision at the offensive blue line felled both defenceman, the forward raced on his off wing and rifled a quick shot over the blocker.
Little had the best chance for the Jets when he split the defence and found himself on a breakaway, but Brossoit shut the door, coolly closing the wickets for his first big save of the season.
Shots on goal favoured the Oilers 8-5 after one period of play, but the Jets were in control for much for the night.
In a wild overtime period, a Taylor Hall penalty put the Jets on the power play, but the Oilers got the better of the chances, with stay-at-home defenceman Eric Gryba jumping on a loose puck at the blue line and rattling a hard shot off the crossbar. Moments later, Andrej Sekera – who has a pair of overtime goals on similar plays this year – nearly did it again, but his two tries were both denied by Pavelec, who was calm and in control all night.
“You give those guys opportunities, or if you give away pucks at their line, you try to do too much in the offensive zone, that’s where they kill you,” Wheeler said. “If they’re going to out-battle us in their defensive zone, take the puck, go down 200 feet and score, you tip your cap and wish them well, but for the most part we felt that if we made them come 200 feet, we could make it a long night for them.”