WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets continued their stretch of dominance on home ice Thursday night, defeating one of the best teams in the National Hockey League, the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens.
Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Scheifele, Jim Slater, Blake Wheeler and Adam Lowry each scored, while Ondrej Pavelec made 39 saves in a 5-2 victory.
The Jets are now 12-2-2 in their last 16 home games.
With the win, the Jets improve to 39-24-12 for 90 points on the year, three up on the Calgary Flames for the second of two wild-card spots.
“We took advantage of our opportunities,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd said after his team was outshot 41-22 in a winning effort. “They’re a pretty stingy team defensively and usually don’t give you too many, so you have to make the best of them.
“We owe a lot of that to our goalie. This time of year you take the two points any way you can.”
Thanks to the sensational goaltending of Pavelec, the Jets took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The Pavelectricity began four-and-a-half minutes in as the reigning First Star of the Week came up with a phenomenal save on Andrei Markov before sprawling out and robbing David Desharnais twice on the rebound, preserving a 0-0 tie early on. Then, on a power-play chance near the 10-minute mark, Alex Galchenyuk had a glorious opportunity to bury the icebreaker in tight, but his backhand deke was denied by the goaltender.
“We didn’t have the legs,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said, referring to opening 20 minutes in which his team was outshot 20-5. “I don’t think this is an assessment of our ability to handle fast teams. … This wasn’t a lack of will, a lack of determination or preparation. It was a lack of energy.
"We were a fatigued hockey team tonight and we found a way to win. I’ve seen games like that before and normally they don’t go your way, but our goaltender was fantastic.”
After playing six games in 10 days, the Jets are looking forward to a few days off before getting back at it Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“It felt like we were behind it the entire period and our goaltender was the best player on the ice for either team. We needed him to survive it,” Maurice said. “We got better incrementally as the game went on, but never really turned a switch where we thought we were in control of the game.
“Sometimes you’ve got to accept where you’re at and not look for ‘perfect.’”
That they did.
The Jets took a 1-0 lead at 12:33 as Byfuglien recorded his 16th of the season in typical fashion. Back in the fold after missing nine games with an upper-body injury, No. 33 rocketed a one-time shot under the arm of the netminder after receiving a beautiful drop pass from Jim Slater at the top of the far circle. Dustin Tokarski got a piece, but not enough as the puck crawled to a stop across the line, an inch out of his reach.
“I thought I played pretty well,” Byfuglien said after playing more than 18 minutes in his first game back. “It felt good to get back in the mix with the boys. We all stuck together and didn’t get away from our game plan. We weathered it. We did some positive things and we got our two points.”
Pavelec was at it again late in the period, delivering the save of the game (so far) off Lars Eller, whose one-time attempt in tight caught pad.
The Jets extended to a 2-0 lead at 6:05 of the second period. Capitalizing on the blundering efforts of Desharnais and Jeff Petry, Scheifele converted a beautiful centering pass from Tyler Myers for the all-important tally.
At the other end, the saves kept piling up – until the Canadiens found a crack in the otherwise impeccable armour. Seconds after the “Pavy! Pavy!” chant echoed throughout MTS Centre, Markov and the bleu, blanc et rouge cut the deficit to one.
Not for long, mind you.
Two-and-a-half minutes later, Slater (who added an assist and a fight for the Gordie Howe Hat Trick) restored the two-goal lead with his third of the season and first in 26 games. Driving the net in pursuit of a rebound, Slater had the puck redirect off his skate and in, giving the Jets a 3-1 lead at 9:13. Then, with exactly a minute to play in the middle frame, Wheeler put this one to bed. Finishing off a 2-on-1 with Scheifele, the ‘cage’-y veteran snapped a quick shot through the wickets for the Jets’ fourth goal on 13 shots.
“Coming back after they scored to get the next one was huge for us. It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was a good effort,” Slater said.
Forty-five seconds after Gallagher gave the Canadiens a bit of life, Lowry sealed it, pounding a rebound into the yawning cage to make it 5-2 late in the third period.
Pavelec did the rest. Make it six straight for the veteran as the Jets’ march to the Stanley Cup Playoffs rolls on.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com