By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets continue to play the role of streak-killers in the NHL, and they did it again Monday night in front of a nationally televised American audience.
Winnipeg’s 3-1 victory over Buffalo not only ended the Sabres’ 6-0-1 record in their last seven, it halted their meteoric rise back into the playoff race where they had gone 9-3-3 since the All-Star break following a rocky December and January.
Watch post-game reaction:
“At the start of the season, something we struggled with was closing teams out especially playing with a lead,” said Jets forward Bryan Little, who was responsible for setting up all three of Winnipeg’s goals. “Usually tie games were a struggle for us too. Seems like the last month or so we’ve really learned how to play with that lead, and learned how to play good third periods and finish teams off.”
The win keeps Winnipeg (32-27-8, 72 points) in the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with 15 games remaining in their schedule, three points up on the Washington Capitals, and four on Tampa Bay and Buffalo.
The Jets held a one goal lead for the majority of the first two periods on Andrew Ladd’s 21st of the season midway through the first, until Buffalo’s Corey Tropp slid one under Ondrej Pavelec in a mad scramble in the crease with 35 seconds remaining in the second.
Eight minutes into the third, Little sprung Blake Wheeler with a stretch breakaway pass that Wheeler buried with a snap shot off the post and in on Ryan Miller’s glove side for his 15th of the year, and team-leading 54th point.
Third-line grinder Chris Thorburn added the insurance marker less than three minutes later with a nifty toe-drag move, beating Buffalo defenceman Robyn Regehr one-on-one before sliding it past Miller.
“That was awesome,” said Wheeler of being outdone by Thorburn’s fourth goal of the season. “That’s going to go down as maybe the goal of the year for the Jets, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.
“He drove the net hard and he kind of bailed on the play, put it in my pads,” said Miller, who was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Sunday. “He got a nice bounce and it came right back to him.”
Monday capped Winnipeg’s eight-game homestand where they went 5-1-2. They now head out on a two-game road trip through Vancouver and Calgary on Thursday and Friday before returning home to host the Dallas Stars on March 14.
ChrisD.ca video/Darrin Bauming