BUFFALO, N.Y. — Unlikely heroes have put meaning into Tuesday's Southeast Division showdown with the Washington Capitals.
The Winnipeg Jets’ biggest guns were not silent on Monday night at First Niagara Center against the Buffalo Sabres; they just couldn’t get anything past Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth.
So it was left to Aaron Gagnon and Antti Miettinen, and their offence provided the Jets with a 2-1 victory over the Sabres, already eliminated from the playoffs.
Winnipeg, now 6-0-1 in its last seven games, faces the Capitals tonight trailing division-leading Washington and seventh- and eighth-place N.Y. Rangers and Ottawa by just a single point.
"It’s just important to get any scoring," Jets coach Claude Noel said about his team’s secondary scoring.
"I thought we played a really solid game. We could have got scoring from a lot of people, so whether it’s secondary or any way, we had a lot of work cut out for us with Enroth."
Winnipeg outshot Buffalo 39-25, a margin reduced by Buffalo’s late push while trying — unsuccessfully against Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec — to tie the game.
From the start, you could see this game had a danger element for the Jets. From Alexander Burmistrov’s great chance early to Evander Kane’s penalty shot at 14:59, Winnipeg had a healthy edge in the play.
"We were generating chances," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "You don’t want to get down on yourself when you’re doing that."
Danger added some nerves in the middle period when Thomas Vanek of the Sabres nullified Gagnon’s game-opening goal. The Jets were ahead 29-14 on the shot clock.
"We had to play it intelligently or it could have gotten away from us," Noel said.
By the start of the third, Gagnon could have had three on the night. Blake Wheeler might have had three in the first 10 minutes of the final period.
But it was Miettinen’s one-time shot on a pass from James Wright that burned through traffic, then Enroth and just over the goal-line.
"I didn’t really see how it got in there," Miettinen said. "I was just listening to the crowd. It wasn’t the easiest game for us. To be able to win that is great and we’ve just got to be a little better tomorrow when we go into Washington."
The Jets had seven nervous minutes to finish, going into more of a protection mode.
"We’ve gotten that from him (Pavelec) all season," said Ladd, after his personal seven-game points streak was busted. "We’d like to have played a little better in the last 10 minutes, play in their end a little, but he bailed us out a couple of times. Now we’ve taken that step and (can) focus on the biggest game of the year for us."
After the buzzer
Miettinen, who started the game with Gagnon and Chris Thorburn but went up to play with Wright and Evander Kane when Kyle Wellwood suffered a serious hand injury in the second, made it sound like no big deal to come in and be the hero after sitting out six games.
"I don’t think about that I was the difference," he said. "I feel the same I feel every day. That’s one thing about this job — you just try to find a way to be in the middle lane, not get too sad or too happy about things."
Noel suggested his team has been in a good place in its late push for a post-season spot.
"Our team has showed a lot of things — character, a lot of resiliency," he said. "Our focus has been really good. Our work ethic and our 60-minute game has been way better."