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Jets will their way past Sabres 3-1

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Nearly the entire NHL, including headquarters, looked ahead to Monday night’s game at the MTS Centre raving about goalie Ryan Miller and his surging Buffalo Sabres.

Message from the prairie: Big deal.

The Winnipeg Jets were stunned momentarily with a goal against late in the second period but lit up the afterburners for the only two goals of the third to shoot down the Sabres 3-1 before 15,004 gleeful customers.

The punctation mark on their eight-game homestand brought this MTS Centre run to 5-1-2 and pushed the Jets to 32-27-8, good for 72 points and the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, now four ahead of the Sabres.

Winnipeg is just two points back of the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, who have two games in hand, and now suddenly, it seems, just four behind the seventh-place Ottawa Senators, with the same number of games played.

"We did a great job of taking advantage of this homestand," said the Jets offensive star on Wednesday, Bryan Little, who had three assists. "We did a great job of getting points we needed. We didn’t play easy teams. Tonight was an especially hard game and we found a way to get the two points. Hopefully we can take that on the road with us."

The Jets are off to Vancouver Thursday and Calgary on Friday.

While everybody had been talking about the Sabres, who hadn’t lost outright since Feb. 16, the Jets and Buffalo are exactly the same in their last nine games — 6-1-2.

"This is the exact same game we’ve been playing since the all-star game," said Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler, who had the game-winner by beating Miller on a breakaway at 8:02 of the third.

Little said the Jets didn’t care if everyone was watching the Sabres and not his team.

"We didn’t mind that," Little said after his first three-point game of the season. "I know there was a lot of talk about how good Miller was playing. He is playing great. He didn’t have a bad night tonight.

"We just took advantage of some of their mistakes, I mean, a breakaway, a great play by Thorbs (Chris Thorburn). He still made some great saves but we weren’t going to get distracted by how well he’s been playing."

Little seemed to make all the right plays on Monday, sparking the offence the Jets needed to complete their homestand with 32 goals scored in the eight games.

He created a fat rebound for linemate Andrew Ladd’s game-opening goal. For the second he sprang Wheeler for the breakaway and three minutes after that, sent Thorburn away down the right wing for a remarkable, high-skill insurance goal.

"I had a Wheels kind of game," Little smiled, referring to Wheeler’s team-leading 39 assists this season.

When Wheeler sent the MTS Centre fans into a frenzy in the third period, he said there was only one option on his chance.

"The scouting report has kind of been that Miller’s unbeatable, but if you’re going to beat him you’ve got to try to go over the shoulder," he said about ringing the shot just under the crossbar. "You always feel fortunate scoring on a goalie like him. He’s probably the best in the league right now. It felt good when it went in."

"Hopefully there’s bigger ones to come."

The Jets killed a pair of second-period penalties before Corey Tropp jammed in a goal with just 35 seconds left in the second, nullifying Ladd’s game-opener.

"There could have been a couple of turning points in the game," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "When they had back-to-back power plays, I was a little worried there. I thought the game had tremendous pace.

"I like the fact we didn’t get demoralized when we gave up a goal with (35) seconds left in the second period. That was good. We were very resilient coming back into the third period and just playing.

"That’s back-to-back third periods we’ve played well and frankly, I thought our guys played with a lot of will."

That will has been out in spades since Ladd asked his team’s best players to be exactly that about three weeks ago.

"I think everyone has stepped up," Little said. "We’re not getting scoring from one or two guys. It’s been kind of spread out. Everyone’s been stepping up their game."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Game preview

WINNIPEG — They see that the standings are more packed together than they were two weeks ago but it’s not as if the Winnipeg Jets have been standing still.

The Jets, 5-1-2 in their last eight games, meet the also-surging Buffalo Sabres, 6-0-2 in the last eight, at the MTS Centre tonight.

Game time is 7 p.m. (TSN Jets, TSN 1290).

The Jets, who haven’t played since last Thursday’s 7-0 shellacking of Florida, still hold down eighth spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

They have 70 points, one more than the sagging Washington Capitals and two more than both the Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning. Winnipeg leads Toronto by three.

The Jets are four points off the lead in the Southeast Division, held by Florida at 74 points, and the automatic third seed.

One could also cast a gaze at the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators, have 76 points but have played 67 games, one more than Winnipeg.

“It’s getting kind of crazy with how many teams are actually in this hunt,” Jets winger Chris Thorburn said this morning at the MTS Centre. “I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t paying attention.

“But at the same time, we’re keeping our goal in mind and that’s the game ahead and that’s Buffalo.”

Jets veteran defenceman Mark Stuart said he tries not to spend too much time staring at the standings.

“I don’t watch too much but you hear guys talking about it around the room,” Stuart said. “It’s nice to get help but you can’t depend on other teams to do your work for you. You have to do your work yourself, get your points yourself and then it’ll take care of itself.”

The Jets have a 2-0-1 mark against the Sabres this season, the last meeting a 4-1 Winnipeg win here in mid-January.

“They’re a completely different team than the last time we saw them,” Stuart said. “They’ve got pretty much a full lineup and we’re expecting a much better team and it’s going to be a good test for us.”

Just like in December, the Jets have made significant progress during a long homestand, which wraps up tonight. They are 4-1-2 during this one.

“Just to be home, sometimes it’s just a little easier sleeping in your own bed and having that time at home, not getting on a plane all the time,” Stuart said. “And playing in front of our fans is nice, it helps.

“And it’s nice to see some of these guys get rewarded with some goals. Our forwards have really played well. They’re really moving out there.”

Tonight, defenceman Grant Clitsome makes his Jets debut. He'll be in the lineup for the first time since being claimed off waivers last Monday and takes the place of Zach Bogosian, who is out with a lower-body injury.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, March 5, 2012 at 7:49 PM CST: Adds first period summary

8:37 PM: Adds second period summary

9:05 PM: Adds third goal

9:12 PM: Adds fourth goal

9:30 PM: Adds final score

10:57 PM: Game-over wrap

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