By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets always seem to play up to the level of their opponent, and they raised their game against the conference’s second-best team Friday night, doubling up on the Boston Bruins 4-2.
The victory puts the Jets just two points back of the No. 8 seed playoff spot held by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Even more encouraging is Southeast counterpart Washington defeating the division-leading Panthers 2-1 Friday night, keeping Winnipeg just three points behind the Southeast’s top spot which would secure the No. 3 seed in the conference come mid-April.
Watch post-game reaction:
The Jets were able to bounce back after a rocky opening 20 minutes, where they were outshot 13-4 by the defending Cup champs.
“I thought the first period was tough,” said coach Claude Noel. “We tried to play the game sideways and slow, and they were playing fast and north and south. The difference was we were able to play a little quicker as the game went on in the second period and the third.”
“We got some timely goals and some timely saves,” added Noel. “The save (Ondrej) Pavelec made in the third across the crease was a great save.”
Pavelec’s glove robbery of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron kept the game 4-2, and helped the young netminder earn his 21st win of the season on a 31-save performance.
Bryan Little potted a pair of early third period goals — the game-winner and some insurance — while linemate and Jets leading scorer Blake Wheeler put together one of his best games of the season by scoring the Jets’ second goal and setting up both of Little’s.
“He’s so quick,” said Wheeler of Little. “My first look when I get the puck is to see where he’s at.”
Little’s 15th and 16th of the year came only 2:04 apart, and sparked one of the team’s best third period efforts of the season.
“Usually we have a good start and kind of let up in the second half of the game,” said Little. “We played good for three periods. We just weren’t shooting the puck enough in the first two periods, and in the third it seemed like we found a new gear.”
“I think our confidence grew as the game went on,” added Wheeler. “As time went by we realized that if we stick to our game and put the pressure on them we can create scoring chances and put a couple home. That’s how you win games.”
The Jets (28-26-6) will play game two of their eight game homestand on Sunday night against the Colorado Avalanche, and follow it up with meetings against the Flyers, Lightning, Blues, and Oilers through the end of the month.
ChrisD.ca video/Darrin Bauming