Monday's game against Buffalo was the final of an eight-game home stand for the Jets, a homestand they felt needed to be successful as they prepare to play nine of their final 15 games on the road. That stretch starts with their 11th back-to-back of the season, Thursday in Vancouver and Friday in Calgary. (TSN Jets, TSN 1290).
It was also a chance for Winnipeg to put a bit of space between themselves and a group of teams behind them. The Sabres, had they won, would have moved into the final playoff spot.
The Jets beat Buffalo 3-1, moving them to within four of Ottawa for seventh in the East and two of Florida for the lead in the Southeast Division. Winnipeg finishes the homestand 5-1-2 for 12 of a possible 16 points.
"We played well the entire home stand, other than the Edmonton game," said Blake Wheeler in a post-game interview with TSN's Sara Orlesky. Wheeler scored the winner against Buffalo, his 15th of the year, on a breakaway in the third, beating Ryan Miller high glove. "As the situation has grown, the crowd has grown with us," added Wheeler.
Andrew Ladd opened the scoring in the first, banging in a rebound off a Bryan Little shot for his 21st of the season. It was the seventh time in the eight-game home stand the Jets scored first. Corey Tropp (two career goals, both against the Jets) tied it up in the final minute of the second for Buffalo, but it did not faze the Jets who outplayed, out-shot and out-chanced the Sabres in the final period.
Less than three minutes after Wheeler scored, Little sent a pass to Chris Thorburn, who went wide on Robyn Regehr, took the puck to the net and got it through Miller for a highlight-reel goal. Little ended the night with a career high three assists and has seven points in four games against the Sabres this season, and 16 points in 17 career games against Buffalo.
With the win, Winnipeg picked up seven of eight points against the Sabres this season.
Some other game statistics: Dustin Byfuglien was a plus-three and is now a plus-13 in his last nine games. He directed 13 shots at Miller on Monday, leading the way with six on goal, four blocked and three that missed the net.
Evander Kane had five shots but had his point streak snapped at eight. Jim Slater won nine of 14 faceoffs - a stat that can't be overlooked. Kyle Wellwood won five of six, including all three he took in the third.
With Zach Bogosian out, Grant Clitsome made an impressive debut playing just under 20 minutes.
"We were well prepared tonight," commented Little. "It was a fast paced game. We really took advantage of the homestand."
"That's back-to-back third periods that we played well," stated head coach Claude Noel postgame. "We've asked the players to leave it all on the ice and they have. I trusted all four lines, our "D" was good, the Little-line was very solid. Now we need to take our confidence level on the road. We are ready for the challenge. Take that passion, energy, drive within the room and go into Vancouver."
On the home stand, Noel felt they accomplished plenty. "We established that we can play a low-scoring game and win, that we can defend, and we got lots of "A" games from our players."
As for Byfuglien, Noel said, "We talked to him about how he can drive the team. He played a smart game."
The Jets are in a stretch of four games in 15 days, then will play 10 games in 18 days, (five home and five away.)