-- The Buffalo Sabres
and Winnipeg Jets
both found themselves in desperate predicaments as they began play on Thursday night.
Both clubs have endured a trying month and desperately needed two points. But the Jets (22-20-5) opened the scoring, put 30 shots on Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller
by the second intermission and used a pair of power-play goals to beat the crumbling Sabres 4-1 before 15,004 at the MTS Centre.
Winnipeg defenseman Tobias Enstrom
extended his goal-scoring streak to a career-best three games when he notched the Jets' first power-play tally in five games to snap a 1-1 tie at 12:55 of the second period. Tim Stapleton
connected for another power-play goal just under four minutes into the third period before Nik Antropov
iced it by scoring with 1:20 left in regulation.
"It was big," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd
, who scored Winnipeg's first goal. "They're all big right now, especially [against] a team right behind us in a game that we feel we should win."
Buffalo (19-23-5) has lost all four games thus far on its seven-game trip and has dropped 11 in a row away from home in a season that has unraveled over the past month. The Sabres are now anchored nine points off the pace of eighth-place Florida, who has two games in hand on Buffalo.
"We knew going into tonight's game that it might be the toughest game of the whole segment," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was back-to-back, and it's five in seven, and we're getting a little shorthanded."
The win held the Jets, who ended a two-game skid on home ice, within striking distance of first place in the Southeast Division, three points behind the Washington Capitals. The win also sets up a crucial Saturday night date with Florida at the MTS Centre before the Jets embark on a six-game road trip that extends into February.
Picking up two points satisfied Jets coach Claude Noel, though he acknowledged that his club has a lot of areas of its game that need to be cleaned up if it is to mount a serious playoff run in the coming weeks.
"I think we were a little bit fortunate," Noel said. "We've got some work to do here. We've got some work to do because you are not going to win a lot games that way."
Miller finished with 29 saves in his first start since Detroit knocked him out in the second period in a 5-0 loss on Monday. Counterpart Ondrej Pavelec
stopped all but one of the 26 shots that he faced.
"If you want to make the playoffs, you have to win the home games," Pavelec said. "I think the fans deserve a great effort, and I think we showed them tonight that we battle hard, and we're going to be ready for the next one."
The injury-ravaged Sabres had lost the first three games of their trip while being outscored 15-4. Amid trade rumors and a blue line missing regulars Christian Ehrhoff
, Robyn Regehr
and Brayden McNabb
, the Sabres also lost Paul Gaustad
to injury in Wednesday's 6-2 loss at Chicago.
"We're going through a really tough stretch right now," said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers
, who logged a team-high 24:26 in an attempt to hold together the club's crumbling defense corps. "I keep saying the same thing, but it's true. When things are going this bad, it gets tougher every day to get out of it."
Winnipeg came home after taking a 5-1 beating on Tuesday night at New Jersey that left them 2-6-0 in January and rooted in the Eastern Conference's 10th slot, five points out of a playoff spot. A poor road team themselves, the Jets' schedule will send them on the road for eight of their next nine games following Saturday meeting with the Panthers.
The Sabres failed to assemble a strong start, bad news given that Buffalo has won only once in the 15 games in which they have trailed after the first period. Winnipeg pounced on the Sabres early and tested Miller with several in-close shots.
"We knew that we had to play with energy," Pavelec said, "and I think that we jumped on them right away."
The Jets took a 1-0 lead at 11:34 when Ron Hainsey
settled down a puck off the boards at the right point before pounding a rising shot that Ladd, jostling with Sabres defenseman Mike Weber
on the edge of the Buffalo crease, tipped high past Miller.
"I thought that we did the things necessary in the first period to try to get to them letting in the first goal," Noel said. "I thought we put a lot of pucks on Miller, which was our intent."
The Sabres' frustrations dragged on through a first period in which the Jets outshot them by a 19-9 margin. On Buffalo's best chance of the period, Derek Roy
, who has just three goals in a 17-game span stretching nearly six weeks, could only look toward the MTS Centre rafters when he put a point-blank chance from the low slot directly into Pavelec's chest.
The Sabres got a spark when Nathan Gerbe
led a 2-on-1 right-side charge out of the Buffalo zone. Once inside the Winnipeg zone, Gerbe split the middle with a pass that Drew Stafford
collected before skipping a shot that fooled Pavelec at 4:17 of the middle period for a 1-1 game.
The Jets' power play hadn't scored since Winnipeg's 2-1 overtime win in Buffalo on Jan. 7. But the Jets punished Buffalo for an ill-timed line change that set up their first man advantage. A puck along the boards caught Stafford's skate during a Buffalo change, resulting in a bench minor. On the power play, the Jets pinned the Sabres in deep. With Patrick Kaleta
hobbling after taking a shot low, the Jets worked the puck out to Enstrom at the high slot, where he pounded a shot that beat Miller cleanly at 12:55 to restore the Winnipeg lead.
"It gave us the go-ahead, so it felt good," Enstrom said.
Early in the third period, the Jets converted another power play when Stapleton made it 3-1. The Jets center found a patch of open ice just outside Miller's crease and swatted home a bouncing rebound for his seventh tally of the season.