Jets stay alive in playoff race with win over Sharks
Following practice on Monday, Jets' winger Blake Wheeler shared what he thought was the biggest difference in the team this season compared to years past.
For the first time in a long time — or perhaps ever in his previous three seasons in Winnipeg — Wheeler said he felt part of a group that truly believed they could win on any given night, no matter the pedigree of their opponent.
“We know who we are. We know our identity,” was how Wheeler started. “Before we'd string some wins together and when we’d lose we’d kind of be a little bit lost on how to get it back.
“But now it feels like we belong. It feels like there isn’t a game, there isn’t a team that we play that we feel outmatched against. We feel like we should beat every team and that’s a different feeling in our room.”
It was that kind of confidence on full display Tuesday as the Jets defeated the San Jose Sharks in an offensive onslaught that saw Winnipeg score early and often, taking a 3-0 lead just 13 minutes in, en route to a 5-2 victory at MTS Centre.
It was fitting, too, that Wheeler be the one to step up, finishing the game with three points and two goals, including a pivotal marker in the second period that put the Jets up 4-1 and shifted the momentum back in their favour after San Jose began to show signs of life.
That’s not to suggest it was a one-man show. There was plenty of praise to go around in this one.
Look no further than Wheeler’s two linemates in Mark Scheifele and Drew Stafford. Combined, the trio has scored 21 points in their last 5 games, including eight against the Sharks.
“That line tonight, every time we put them on the ice something good happened,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice.
Scheifele collected a goal and two assists for just his second three-point game this season. Stafford chipped in with two assists.
With Bryan Little still on the shelf with an upper body injury and his return still up in the air, a lot of pressure has been placed on this line to produce and each night they’ve found a way to deliver.
“We’re just getting more comfortable playing with each other,” said Scheifele. “We all just want to go out and make plays.”
Pavelec puts on a show
Speaking of making plays, Ondrej Pavelec made his fair share on the night, stopping 38 shots in his quest to regain No.1 status between the pipes.
“Big win for us,” said Pavelec. “We did a really good job to battle and we got the two points.”
The win marked just the second time this season Pavelec has won back-to-back starts. The other time was a stretch in late October, more than four months ago.
Last week Pavelec voiced his displeasure following a game against the St. Louis Blues, hinting that his lack of playing time was starting to get to him
Maurice responded by going back to Michael Hutchinson the very next game but after a not-so-stellar performance against Florida, Pavelec found himself with another chance to make his case.
A solid effort in a win over Tampa Bay Saturday earned Pavelec another shot against a high-flying San Jose team and Maurice liked what he saw from his goaltender.
“[Pavelec] was aggressive, trying to find pucks. He was fighting,” said Maurice.
It was the kind of performance the Jets need from their goalie as the tempo continues to increase down the final stretch and the games become even more meaningful.
With the win, the Jets improve to 35-23-12 on the year and regain control over the final wild card spot in the West. Right with them is Calgary, who lost 4-0 to St. Louis Tuesday and remain one point behind Winnipeg with the same amount of games played.