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Jets clinch berth despite shootout loss to Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski /

DENVER -- The Winnipeg Jets are heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated from Atlanta for the 2011-12 season.

Despite a 1-0 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Thursday, the Jets clinched the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference because the defending Cup champion Los Angeles Kings lost 3-1 to the Calgary Flames.

The Jets (42-26-13) celebrated in the locker room after learning of the Kings loss, which eliminated Los Angeles from playoff contention.

"It's the happiest I've ever seen after a loss," Winnipeg left wing Andrew Ladd said. "I don't think we wanted to get in that way, but you take it any way you can. In terms of the regular season, it was one of the most grueling, probably the most adversity we dealt with. It's a testament to the character we have in this room. It's an exciting feeling to be back in the playoffs and it's going to be a lot of fun."

The Jets' 97 points match the franchise record set in 2006-07 when it played as the Atlanta Thrashers and last made the playoffs.

Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene scored against Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec in the shootout. Pavelec made 21 saves through overtime for his third consecutive shutout, fifth of the season and 16th of his NHL career.

"Finally, finally we did it," Pavelec said. "We can finally say we made it. It's a good feeling, a really good feeling."

Colorado backup goalie Reto Berra, making his 12th start of the season, made 41 saves for his first NHL shutout. He made saves against Blake Wheeler and Ladd in the tiebreaker.

"You have to give the guys credit," Pavelec said. "[Colorado] didn't have much. They had a few shots in the third and in overtime, but I think we controlled the game and played great defensively. Their goalie played really well, and then we got help from Calgary, so it's a great moment for us."

Wheeler credited Pavelec for keeping the Jets in the game, even though he didn't need to make many tough saves.

"Pavelec has stood on his head, he stood tall, and he made the big save when we needed it," Wheeler said. "That's how you win this time of year. You need good goaltending, and he's been unbelievable for us."

Berra struggled earlier in the season and was relegated to the bench behind minor league call-up Calvin Pickard when Semyon Varlamov was unable to play because of a groin injury.

"It was a great night," Berra said. "I think the whole team played good. I feel pretty good right now, of course. The whole season was sometimes tough. I went through tough times, but it's only my second year here, so I still have a lot to learn. Overall, I'm happy I have good form right now."

The Avalanche (38-31-12) were eliminated from playoff contention Saturday after finishing first in the Central Division last season. They've won three of their past four games with victories against the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators preceding the game with the Jets.

"Our players deserve a lot of credit," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I am very proud of them the way that they handled the situation. It would be very easy for them to shut down. This is a special group, a group that I told you all year long they care, they want to do well, and they just showed you exactly that."

Berra made 17 saves in the third period, two against Wheeler with 14 seconds to play. His best save in overtime came against Ladd with 50 seconds to go.

"It probably would have been better if we had taken care of it on our own terms, but we couldn't get one by [Berra]," Wheeler said. "Their goalie played well. The way we've been playing, the way we've been pushing, we were due to get some help (from the Flames).

"It's just a great feeling. I can't tell you the amount of work the guys have put in. They've been here since Day One. We have a group of guys that have withstood the ups and down. We have as good of a chance as anyone, so we're pretty excited."

One of the Avalanche's best scoring chances came at 11:28 of the third period while they were killing their fourth penalty of the game, a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Winnipeg's Michael Frolik lost the puck to O'Reilly, who passed to Alex Tanguay to begin a 2-on-1 rush. Tanguay skated down right wing and passed to O'Reilly for a shot that Pavelec stopped.

"We played as hard as we could," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "We had absolutely nothing left. There have been two or three times over the course of the year when we've faced some pretty big adversity."

Jets left wing Mathieu Perreault sustained a leg injury and didn't return after being checked to the ice by Zach Redmond at 5:42 of the second period.

Avalanche defenseman Brad Stuart sustained a leg injury early in the first period and didn't return.

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