Thursday night the Winnipeg Jets had an assignment: Beat the Buffalo Sabres and keep pace with the Washington Capitals. Mission accomplished.
The Jets improved to 20-19-2 on the season after beating the Sabres 4-1 on Thursday night. It seemed like quite an easy victory. At no time did the Sabres look like a team that could compete with the Jets (Buffalo didn’t have a shot in the first seven minutes of the game) and after the clubs went to their respective rooms tied at 0-0 after the first period, the Jets started to dominate.
Kyle Wellwood scored at 4:54 of the second period and then Aaron Gagnon scored his first NHL goal at 10:04 and Andrew Ladd, with his first goal in 17 games at 19:38, gave Winnipeg an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
Kevin Porter scored a flukey goal for Buffalo, a pool shot off Jets rightwinger Blake Wheeler, but that was it. Wheeler scored his 15th of the year into an empty net at 19:34 and the Jets had their 20th win of the season and their second in a row.
It was a good thing the Jets won. The Washington Capitals went into Montreal and beat the Canadiens 3-2 as Alexander Ovechkin took over the goal scoring lead in the NHL with his 26th of the season. The Caps are now 21-17-2, first in the Southeast Division and third overall in the NHL. The Caps have won five straight games and are 19-9-1 since Feb. 7.
The Jets are now 20-19-2, second in the Southeast and ninth in the Eastern Conference, although the Jets are tied in points with the eighth-place New York Rangers.
Buffalo outshot the Jets 32-31 but there weren’t very many difficult saves for Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Fact is, the Sabres had absolutely no answer for anything the Jets did. Even the Jets third and fourth lines were much better than anything Buffalo had to offer.
“I thought our third and fourth lines were pretty good during the game and played a big part in the game in many ways,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “It’s good to get that. We need that.”
Toby Enstrom suffered another shoulder injury, missed the second and third periods, and Noel said he’s day-to-day.
“I thought our defense was good, especially with just five of them,” said Noel. “I thought Pavelec was real good. Pavelec helped from time to time. There were some key moments when he made big saves and kept the game from going sideways. I thought we played with good discipline.
“We played with patience and comfort and work. We played patiently in the first period and then things started to go our way.”
The Jets will play again Thursday night against the Florida Panthers at MTS Centre, 7 p.m. on TSN Jets TV. After that, Winnipeg will have four days off before playing the Tampa Bay Lightning next Tuesday at MTS Centre in the fourth game of this six-game home stand.
The Jets now have just seven games reamining. The final game is Thursday, April 25 against Montreal at MTS Centre.