The Winnipeg Jets are still very much in a playoff hunt.
Winnipeg’s 2-1 victory Monday evening over the Buffalo Sabres brought the Jets to within one point of three possible playoff spots that the Rangers, Senators and Capitals hold. Winnipeg threw everything they had Sabre netminder Jhonas Enroth outshooting Buffalo 15-4 in the first period and 39-25 overall. Enroth turned away chance after chance, including an Evander Kane penalty shot just over five minutes into the contest. The Jets continued peppering the Sabre net, but couldn’t beat the young Swede as the score held 0-0 through the first twenty minutes.
In the second period, Winnipeg broke the stalemate as Aaron Gagnon redirected Derek Meech’s pass from the left half boards to beat Enroth over his glove side shoulder. For Gagnon, it is his third goal in eight games since being called up from St. John’s earlier this month.
The Sabres came right back minutes later as Thomas Vanek was able to redirect the puck to the top left corner from the slot beating Pavelec over his stick. From there the Jets continued to press, spending multiple minutes in the Buffalo end.
It wasn’t until 12:24 in the third that Antti Miettinen was able to get the decisive tally. Miettinen’s one timer from just above the right circle squeaked through Enroth’s blocker side arm and etched over the goal line.
The Sabres pressured in the waning minutes, pulling Enroth for the extra attacker, but Pavelec stood tall. He robbed Vanek multiple times including with a point blank pad stack, snaring the puck out of the air with just over three minutes remaining.
Winnipeg meets Washington with division on the line
Winnipeg now heads to the United States capital city for their final meeting with the Washington Tuesday night. This contest is their biggest game this season and arguably the most important game since the franchise’s arrival in Manitoba.
“I think it’s been circled on our calendar for a long time now,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd said to WinnipegJets.com. “We wanted to put ourselves in a position where tomorrow’s going to be a meaningful game, and we’ve done that. So here it is.”
It’s been six years since the current Jets franchise has seen the National Hockey postseason. It’s been 17 years since the city of Winnipeg has seen NHL playoff hockey. If Ladd and his squad can grab two points, they’ll leap the Captials for the lead in the Southeast Division, although Washington will have two games to go, compared to Winnipeg’s one.
The Capitals hold a 3-1 advantage in the season series thus far, but the lone Jets victory came at their only contest inside the Verizon Center in January. If Washington secures the victory, they’ll clinch the Southeast division.
If the Jets get one point they’ll be tied with the the Islanders,Rangers, and Senators who hold the sixth through eighth spots, respectively, but with only one more game remaining compared to those squads’ two.
The goal for Winnipeg is simple, get two points outright and hope for a little help from the Senators or Bruins who are Washington’s final two opponents.
“We know what’s at stake,” Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel told reporters after the win Monday night. “It’s the time of the year to put your best foot forward.”