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Pavelec's 39 saves lead Jets past Predators

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- Coming off the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it might have been hard to know what to expect from Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec when the NHL season resumed.

Playing for the Czech Republic, he allowed four goals and was pulled in a quarterfinal loss to the United States. Pavelec did not dress for the Czechs' first game against Sweden.

If those events bothered him, it's not apparent. Despite his team being significantly outshot, Pavelec stopped 39 shots Saturday in a 3-1 win against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville outshot Winnipeg 40-20, giving Pavelec his second strong win against the Central Division foe this season. He made 41 saves on Nov. 8 in a 5-0 win against the Predators.

Since returning from Sochi, Pavelec is 2-0-0. He defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout in his first game back Thursday, when he made 34 saves.

"So he's played the same way, believe it or not, that he played prior to," Jets coach Paul Maurice said of Pavelec. "He's had a big stretch of really good games and then every once in a while he plays a game like he did tonight.

"I thought -- clearly he made some great saves -- but I also thought we were pretty good at clearing [the rebound] after it happened. Not necessarily out of the zone, but away from that second one where he couldn't. If he could see it, for the most part, he had it and his body was still in a really good position on rebounds. He was our best player tonight."

The surging Jets (29-26-6) are 11-3-1 since Maurice replaced Claude Noel as coach on Jan. 12. The Jets, who began the day two points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, pushed their lead over the Predators to four points in the Central Division.

Predators coach Barry Trotz said a bad read by the right-side defenseman -- he didn't name him, but it was rookie Seth Jones -- cost Nashville the first goal. Jets center Olli Jokinen broke in alone and his wrist shot beat goalie Carter Hutton high to the glove side at 5:02 of the second period. The goal was Jokinen's 14th of the season.

Nashville (26-25-10) is 1-2-2 in its past five games. The Predators had won three of four against the Jets in the season series entering Saturday.

Trotz said he liked his team's effort. The Predators play the third game of their five-game homestand on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I thought we had a lot going on," Trotz said. "We created a lot of opportunities. We drew penalties because we were on the puck and we were creating chances. Give them credit. They had a full commitment by everybody. They got a couple big, huge saves. ... There's not too many things I can say that is on a negative front at all."

One game after going 3-for-4 on the power play in a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, the Predators failed to score on all six power-play chances. Nashville entered the game with the NHL's fifth-ranked power play, but Winnipeg owns the League's top-ranked penalty-killing unit on the road. The Jets entered killing 87.5 percent of opponent's chances away from home.

"We're able to get clears, which is big," said Jets defenseman Mark Stuart, who logged 6:19 of time on ice shorthanded and played a rugged game with four hits. "When you can get the puck all the way down the ice, it takes away some steam from the power play. We were able to do that and then get some changes. We've had a little bit too much practice with the [penalty kill]but it's been strong."

Pavelec was Winnipeg's best penalty-killer Saturday. In the first period, he came across the crease to rob David Legwand's try on a rebound when the game was still scoreless. Legwand fell to the ice, clutching his helmet in disbelief. Trotz cited that as an important save early.

Pavelec stopped Viktor Stalberg on a breakaway with 5:08 left in the second period, flashing his left pad to turn aside a wrist shot along the ice.

Jets captain Andrew Ladd deflected Zach Bogosian's slap shot from the right side past Hutton to give the Jets a 2-0 lead with 1:41 left in the second.

Predators forward Simon Moser scored his first NHL goal in his fifth career game with 10:49 left in regulation to pull Nashville within 2-1. Moser deflected a shot by defenseman Michael Del Zotto past Pavelec.

But Pavelec preserved the lead with about five minutes left in regulation, stopping Mike Fisher on a 2-on-1. Jets forward Devin Setoguchi then pushed the margin to 3-1 with 3:52 left in regulation. Blake Wheeler used his speed to outflank Predators defenseman Shea Weber and put a shot on goal that Hutton stopped, but Setoguchi converted the rebound from close range.

The Jets, Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks each have 66 points, though the Stars own the final wild-card berth in the Western Conference because they have two games in hand on the other two.

Ladd said the Jets won't begin scoreboard-watching so early and he wants his team to find ways to continue to improve.

"First of all, it's been great to put ourselves in position to be back in the race," he said. "We're playing our best hockey of the year at this point and we're on a pretty good run here, so confidence is where it needs to be in a run. Like I said, we understand that we need to stay on the gas here and keep pushing."

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