Heading into the final week of the lockout-shortened 2013 National Hockey League season, the Winnipeg Jets needed to win all three of their final games to have a realistic show at the post-season. Monday night in Buffalo, the Jets cleared the first hurdle.
Antti Miettinen, benched for the much of the past two weeks (he was a healthy scratch for the past six games), scored the eventual winning goal with 7:36 remaining in regulation time to give the Jets a 2-1 victory over the struggling Buffalo Sabres.
“He’s capable of doing those things,” Jets coach Claude Noel said of Miettinen in the post-game scrum. “He’s a good player and he gave us a big goal. But he’s a capable hockey player. He played a real good game.”
While Miettinen was the offensive hero, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec made a huge save off Thomas Vanek near the end of the game to save the day for the Jets. However, to be clear, it should never have been a one-goal game.
Granted, in the end, this game was close, but under the circumstances it should never have been. The Jets dominated play from the opening faceoff. In the first period, Winnipeg outshot Buffalo 15-4. At one point in the game, the Jets had outshot the Sabres 22-6. In the end, the Jets outshot Buffalo 39-25, but Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth spent much of the night making saves off of shots he never saw. It was a remarkable performance by Enroth who was the only difference between 2-1 and 10-1.
The Jets goals were scored by Miettinen and Aaron Gagnon, with his second of the year, off a beautiful feed from defenseman Derek Meech. Vanek scored for Buffalo. In the first period Winnipeg’s Evander Kane had a penalty shot, but he was foiled by Enroth.
“For us, it’s important to get any scoring,” said Noel. “Tonight I thought we played a real solid game. We had our work cut out for us with Enroth. He was sensational. It was a game we had to play intelligently because it could get away from you. With all the chances we had, we might have lost our concentration, but we played real well. It was a good win for us.
“Really guys, it doesn’t matter if our scoring is secondary scoring or primary scoring, just getting scoring for us is important. Tonight it was scoring from our secondary guys but that doesn’t matter. We just needed scoring. It was a big goal by Miettinen and a real nice goal by Gagnon.”
With the win, the Jets are now 25-19-3 and have accumulated 13 of a possible 14 points in the their last seven games, just to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Jets now have 51 points, one point behind the eighth-place New York Rangers. The Rangers, however, have a game in hand.
The Jets are also one point behind Washington in the race for first in the Southeast Division. Washington also has one game in hand and Tuesday night, the Jets will play in Washington in one of the most important games the team has played since arriving in Winnipeg from Atlanta in the spring of 2011.
“Our team has shown a lot of things for me this year,” said Noel. “Character, resiliency and our 60-minute game has been way better in the last month. We fortunate that our goaltender enables us, in the big picture, to stay in games when we need him.
“Now comes a big game for us. We know what’s at stake, It’s the time of the year when you have to put your best foot forward. They’ll (Washington) be coming after us. We have to play our best game. We know the situation.”
The Jets suffered another major injury on Monday night. Forward Kyle Wellwood will be out long term with an injured hand. Noel said Nik Antropov will be an option to replace Wellwood, but not Jim Slater who still isn’t ready to return to the lineup.
Tuesday night’s game from Washington begins at 6 p.m. CDT and is available on TSN Jets TV.