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Wheeler's OT goal lifts Jets past Avalanche

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets squandered three one-goal leads before Blake Wheeler scored 1:42 into overtime to give them a 5-4 victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night at MTS Centre.

Wheeler broke into the Colorado zone, moved around three defenders and seemingly waited too long before firing a wide-angled shot from the right circle that beat goaltender Reto Berra. Wheeler, who had two assists earlier in the game, broke a nine-game goal-scoring drought.

"You'd like to be able to close that one out in regulation but that's not the way it works," Wheeler said. "That's not the way it's been this year for us, for whatever reason. We've been through a lot of highs and lows, but the thing you can say about our group is we've stuck with it all year, and we stuck with it."

The loss wrapped up a three-game Canadian road trip for the Avalanche (44-20-6), who dropped behind the Chicago Blackhawks into third place in the Central Division. The Avalanche and Chicago, which beat the St. Louis Blues 4-0, are headed toward a likely first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Jets (32-30-9) moved within four points of the Phoenix Coyotes for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference; however, Phoenix has two games in hand.

Each team began the game battling injury problems. The Avalanche were without center Paul Stastny and John Mitchell while the injury-plagued Jets took more two hits to their roster, with defensemen Dustin Byfuglien (lower body) and Zach Bogosian (upper body) not dressing for the game. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (lower body) also missed his third consecutive game. In all, nine players were out of the Winnipeg lineup.

"You need those guys to come in and give you something and not just hold the sweater," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "They've got to give you something if you're going to win, and those guys have done that for us."

Berra, whom the Avalanche acquired from the Calgary Flames on March 5 and subsequently signed to a three-year contract extension, made his Colorado debut. He stopped 22 shots in his first game since March 3 when he was with Calgary.

"I was nervous," Berra said. "I didn't play my best game."

Jets goaltender Al Montoya made his third straight start in place of Pavelec and made 23 saves.

Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Nick Holden and Cody McLeod scored for the Avalanche. Jets captain Andrew Ladd scored twice and hit the 20-goal mark for the third time in the past four seasons. Eric Tangradi, who moved to a line with Olli Jokinen and Wheeler, scored his first goal in 29 games. Evander Kane added a second-period goal.

O'Reilly banked a shot off Winnipeg center Bryan Little and past Montoya 20 seconds into the game for his team-leading 26th goal. But Ladd answered for the Jets at 3:15, snapping a rising shot off the left wing that climbed over Berra's glove hand and caught the top corner.

Tangradi scored his second goal of the season and gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead at 13:49 when he stuffed Wheeler's cross-crease pass behind Berra and inside the right post. However, Landeskog tied the game at 2-2 with his 21st goal during a delayed penalty against Winnipeg, punching the rebound of Andre Benoit's point shot past Montoya at 17:43.

Kane gave the Jets a 3-2 lead at 12:02 of the second period, finishing off a touch pass from Devin Setoguchi for his 17th goal. But Holden's eighth of the season with 30.5 seconds left in the period left the teams even at 3-3 after two periods.

Ladd provided the Jets with their third lead of the game when he snapped a high shot from in close over Berra's right shoulder at 4:58 of the third period. McLeod's third of the season tied the game again with 9:37 left in regulation and broke his 48-game goalless streak.

The Avalanche lost 6-3 on the road against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday and made the long trip to Winnipeg, but the difficult travel never was a factor for the Avalanche.

"We were not trying to find excuses," coach Patrick Roy said. "We had not done that all year. We just wanted to make sure we had a good start and we did."

Instead the Avalanche focused on having overcome three one-goal deficits and happily took one point away from Winnipeg as they headed home to play the Boston Bruins on Friday.

"I think that is something we certainly take away from this game," Landeskog said. "Ultimately it's about getting home-ice advantage in the Playoffs as many times as you can. We're obviously aiming to pass St. Louis to keep winning and keep climbing."

Landeskog also pointed to the three comeback goals as a sign of a young team maturing as the organization prepares for its first postseason appearance since 2010.

"I think we showed that we easily could have packed it in when [Winnipeg] scored [the fourth goal]," Landeskog said. "But we kept battling and doing the little things, chipping pucks out, chipping pucks in. I think that's a sign of maturity. [Roy] has done a great job of preparing us for every single game. He has his experience, so every time he opens his mouth, we're like sponges and trying to soak it all in."

Wheeler leads the Jets with 24 goals and 59 points. Before scoring against Colorado, Wheeler had scored once in 15 games but contributed 11 assists during the span.

"I've been pretty happy with my game recently," Wheeler said. "I like to go out there, play as hard as I can and the results follow. If it's [Tangradi] scoring, if it's [Ladd] scoring, I don't care. I just want that [puck] to go in the net, and I want to help contribute to wins."

The win will keep the Jets, who host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, a factor in the playoff race for now.

"This team, we battled," Montoya said. "That's what happens this time of year. That's why you count on your depth and you don't really worry about who is playing on the ice. You just go out there and try to do what you can. We stuck to the plan and wore them down."

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