WINNIPEG – It was around this time last year when Ondrej Pavelec stole the show, posting back-to-back shutouts to help the Jets earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here we are in the spring of 2016 and ‘Pavy’ is once again putting on a clinic. The 28-year-old has now stopped 61 of 62 shots in his last two games, including 33 big ones in a 4-1 win tonight over the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings.
Dustin Byfuglien and Paul Postma broke a 1-1 tie with goals less than three minutes apart early in the third period, and Drew Stafford scored into the empty net with 1:58 to play.
Adam Lowry scored the other for the Jets, while Anze Kopitar tallied for the Kings.
“Teams that have those ‘winning habits,’ that’s the type of game that they win. They find a way to get it done,” Stafford said. “Regardless of where we are in the standings, we’re still playing for pride; we’re playing to build character in here.”
The Kings were all over the Jets in the opening 20, recording 85 percent (21) of total shot attempts (14-4 on goal), and all but one of the period’s 18 scoring chances, but the shots were even at 20 the rest of the way.
In a three-goal third, the Jets outshot the Kings 10-5.
After shutting out the Vancouver Canucks 48 hours earlier, Pavelec picked up right where he left off and was a big reason why the Jets were even in the game through 40 minutes.
“We had a really good goaltender,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We were at least able to get better, because we were not very good in the first 40 minutes.
“It’s good that they were able to dig in. The positive out of tonight’s game is that the fans got to see a win. We’ve struggled to put some wins together at home.”
For a while, it didn’t seem possible. The Kings opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 9:25 of the second period. After a couple quick passes to break the puck out of their own end, Kopitar took the puck down the right side, turned the corner on Dustin Byfuglien and fired a shot low, blocker side on Pavelec.
Pavelec, who made 14 saves in the first, turned aside 15 more in the middle frame; none better than his point-blank stop off Tyler Toffoli, who eluded two defenders and planted himself in the blue paint as the Jets’ power play struggled to gain traction.
Trevor Lewis met a similar fate, as he crashed the net and got a couple whacks at a loose puck late, but Pavelec was there, blocking the open side with an incredible diving effort.
“We could have easily folded up tonight against a team like that, that was really bringing it to us,” Stafford said. “After the first period, it was tied; second period, still tied, so we still had a way to get into it. We followed Pavy’s lead, the way he was playing. He kept us in the game.”
Trailing 28-11 on the shot clock, the Jets tied things up with 1:41 left in the period. Following some great work to retrieve a loose puck on the forecheck, Lowry finished off a Matt Halischuk centering pass with a bullet from the slot, roofing it over Jonathan Quick.
Lowry has now scored in consecutive games for the first time in his career. The second-year forward is now up to seven goals on the year, just four off the 11 of his rookie season.
Byfuglien put the Jets in front with a rocket from the right point a mere 15 seconds into the third. Nikolaj Ehlers did a masterful job screening Quick on the fly-by, but was not credited with an assist. Postma then put the Jets up by a pair at 2:54 with an eerily similar goal – this time, it was Wheeler, along with LA defenceman Nick Shore, planted in front, blocking the view of the goaltender.
“I think they dominated the first two periods, but it doesn’t matter,” Pavelec said.
“It’s a great win for us.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com