Jets Keep Slim Playoff Hopes Alive

Jeremy Wiebe April 22, 2013 4
Mittens goal against SabresSean Rudyk/Getty Images

Perhaps the National Post’s Bruce Arthur said it best: “Whatever happens in the playoff chase, the Winnipeg Jets have been probably been a big help for local bars and cardiologists.” Yes the Winnipeg Jets have put their loyal and passionate fans through a wild roller-coaster ride, filled with twists and turns over the last month. Tonight was no exception as the Jets squeaked by the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 at First Niagara Centre.

The Jets are now one point behind the Washington Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division, as well as a single point behind the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The game itself wasn’t a classic by any stretch. But artistic impression only matters in figure skating and mercifully, hockey isn’t decided by corrupt Russian judges. (Although on-ice officials weren’t very good tonight, to the Jets advantage as Buffalo had some calls go against them that were questionable at best.)

The only real highlight of a scoreless first period was a penalty shot attempt by Evander Kane. The penalty shot call itself was iffy as Kane wasn’t clearly behind the Sabres defenceman when Kane was hauled down. However Kane was rewarded with a clear chance on goal. Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth, who was very good for most of the evening, just got a piece of the shot, before deflecting off the crossbar and over the net, to keep it scoreless after the opening frame.

Aaron Gagnon opened the scoring for the Jets at the 7:47 mark of the second period, as he tipped home a nifty pass from Derek Meech, who was replacing the injured Zach Bogosian, to give the Jets a 1-0 lead. The Sabres equalized on the power play four minutes later, at Tomas Vanek tipped home a Tyler Ennis setup to draw the Sabres level. Late in the period, Jets captain Andrew Ladd fought Sabres pest Steve Ott after Ladd drilled Sabres defenceman Christian Ehrhoff in the corner. Ott jumped Ladd and this led to a spirited tussle.

The third period began with the Jets having numerous scoring chances, but Enroth continued to hold his ground in the Sabres net. Finally, at the 12:24 mark of the third, Antti Miettinen, who was in the lineup because of an injury to Olli Jokinen, fired a slap shot that seemed to handcuff Enroth and trickled barely over the goal line, to give the Jets the lead. After that it was Ondrej Pavelec’s turn to shine. The Czech Republic goalie made some huge saves, including a larcenous glove hand stop on Vanek led in the third, to preserve the win for the Jets.

This win sets up a massive tilt with the Washington Capitals, tomorrow night at the Verizon Centre. A playoff atmosphere should fill the capital of the United States, with the division title at stake. The Jets only victory against the Caps this season was in Washington, a 4-2 triumph back on January 22. Both teams have been on fire as of late. The Jets are 6-0-1 in their last 7 games. The Caps are 13-2-1 in their last 16 games. This is without a doubt the biggest game in franchise history, since the Jets moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011.

Notes:

Kyle Wellwood left the game at the end of the second period, after blocking a shot with his hand. The Jets are already without Jokinen, Nik Antropov and Jim Slater so they can ill-afford to see another forward go down to injury. Antropov and Slater are on this road trip, so they could play if Wellwood can’t go tomorrow night.

2012 first round pick Jacob Trouba took part in warmups for the first time, leading the team onto the ice. Trouba was left all to himself as his teammates let him have the spotlight for a few seconds, before joining him.

Andrew Ladd had his seven game point streak snapped in tonight’s game. The Jets captain was named the NHL’s first star of the week, recording 2 goals and 6 assists in three games last week. Ladd also scored two shootout goals during that time.

For people in Winnipeg, the play on street hockey tournament happens on May 4 at Kildonan Place Shopping Mall. If you want to register either go to the Play On facebook page, or you can check out the twitter page for more information.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973