Patience and a hot goaltender helped the Winnipeg Jets move into top spot in the Southeast Division with a 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins Tuesday night.
Players and coach once again heaped praise on Ondrej Pavelec, who let in only one goal on 28 shots as the Jets rallied in the third to come back from a 1-0 deficit.
“To say (Pavelec) has been on his game is a bit of an understatement, he’s been spectacular,” said Blake Wheeler, who had two goals for the Jets.
“He plays big right now,” added coach Claude Noel.
“Stuff gets bounced on the way to the net and he makes saves . . . To me that’s just maturing as a goalie and that’s why we want him to be part of our future.”
At the start of the lockout shortened season Noel said goaltending was going to be more important than ever for any team that wanted to make the playoffs.
Wheeler and Evander Kane scored just 57 seconds apart in the third as the Jets took charge of a game that Boston had controlled for 2 1/2 periods.
Wheeler also added an empty-netter for the Jets (16-12-2), who leapfrogged past Carolina again to take the lead in the Southeast Division with 34 points. The Hurricanes lost 4-1 to Florida and are two back.
Brad Marchand scored the lone goal for the Bruins (19-6-3), who dropped their second straight and sit two back of Montreal for the lead in the Northeast.
“We did play a pretty good game all night but we just let our foot off the pedal there for a little bit and they took advantage of it,” Marchand said.
Until the third, the Bruins had given the Jets a lesson in tight defensive play and it was Pavelec who kept them in the game.
The only goal he allowed came just eight seconds into the second period. Marchand grabbed a loose puck right beside the Winnipeg net and scored thanks to a mistake by Zach Bogosian.
Pavelec said later it was just a bad bounce but it did seem to take the wind out of Winnipeg’s sails in the second.
The Jets defenceman bounced the puck off the net instead of clearing it, Marchand swooped in and was free and clear to slip it in from the edge of the crease.
Noel said he didn’t plan on raising the issue with a player who has been one of his top blue-liners.
“We’ve all done that, does somebody need to remind you, does somebody have to say to you ‘what were you thinking?“’
He also praised his top line of Wheeler, captain Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. Both Little and Ladd picked up assists Tuesday.
“That line has logged heavy minutes,” said Noel.
“They keep doing the right things. There’s not many times that line has an off night.”
The Jets managed to shut down the Bruins in the first period even though Boston had two power-play opportunities.
Their penalty kill never wavered but pucks weren’t going in until the 11:44 mark of the third, when Wheeler redirected Bogosian’s shot from the blue-line past Tuukka Rask on a power play.
Then Kane slammed home Grant Clitsome’s rebound to put the Jets ahead at 12:41 before the Bruins had time to recover.
Rask stopped 22 shots for Boston.
The Jets also one team that matches up pretty well on defence with the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara, an imposing six-foot-nine and 255 pounds.
Lined up across the rink is Winnipeg’s six-five, 265-pound Dustin Byfuglien. Coincidentally, both wear No. 33.
Byfuglien had a bit of an off night but Noel said the team as a whole is growing and showing more maturity and that’s important right now as they fight to stay in the playoff picture.
“We’re reliant on each other and the group and not just one or two . . . You’re only as good as the group for me,” said Noel.
“There’s are no easy games. Just because we beat Boston doesn’t mean we’re going to play Washington back to back and that will be a lesser game.”
The Jets play the Capitals Thursday and Friday in Winnipeg.
Washington sits well back of the Jets at 25 points after losing 2-1 to Pittsburgh Tuesday, but the Jets have to keep winning to stay ahead of Carolina, New Jersey and Toronto in the tightly packed East.
Notes: The Jets have been keeping it clean, particularly at home. Only Calgary and Minnesota have been shorthanded fewer times than the Jets. They’ve had to kill 88 penalties in total and an NHL-low 29 at home, before Tuesday, that is.