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Jets pull mile-high heroics

Wheeler pots last-second win in Denver

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Joe Mahoney / The Associated Press

Colorado Avalanche defenceman Andre Benoit (right) pushes Winnipeg Jets winger Blake Wheeler away from the puck during the first period of Sunday's game in Denver, Colo.

DENVER — Sometimes it’s a small thing, almost a hockey cliché — get the puck to the net.

 

At the last possible second Sunday night at Pepsi Center, remembering it paid off handsomely for the Winnipeg Jets.

 

Blake Wheeler redirected rookie Mark Scheifele’s feed towards the Colorado Avalanche net and with 1.5 seconds remaining in overtime, the Jets claimed a 2-1 victory, their second divisional triumph this week.

 

"I saw Wheels and he called for it the last second and he got a good stick on it and it went in," Scheifele said. "Yeah, I knew there wasn’t a lot of time left, that I had to get it towards the net as quick as I could."

 

It’s the second time this month that duo made some overtime magic.

 

Wheeler set up Scheifele for the game-winner in extra time Dec. 7 in Tampa.

 

"I think we just read off each other," Scheifele said. "He makes good plays. We complement each other well. It’s just a matter of being comfortable and capitalizing on those chances."

 

Jets coach Claude Noel said matching Wheeler with Scheifele started out as a hunch.

 

"The reason I did it this time was that the last time I did it, they ended up scoring the overtime goal," the coach said, his team now back to .500 with a mark of 18-18-5 at the halfway point of their regular-season schedule. "So when something like that happens, you just kind of go with it.

 

"I’ve had other pairs do different things. Sometimes it’s just a hunch you follow and that’s why I did it."

 

Central move

 

It’s a baby step, but the Jets improved their Central Division mark this season to 5-11-3 with wins over Minnesota and now the Avs.

 

The climb that remains for the second half is still substantial — six points away from the eighth spot as of late Sunday night — but you’ve got to start somewhere.

 

"I don’t think we’re there yet," Wheeler said after adding his 10th goal of December in deciding Sunday’s game. "We’re really doing a lot of the same things we did the first half but the difference the last two games is that we’ve found a way to dig deep and get that next goal. I think that’s where we missed out in the first half.

 

"It’s a good sign that we’re reversing that trend a little bit, but it’s only two games and we’ve still got a lot of work to do."

 

Style points

 

After the turkey of a first period at home on Friday, the Jets have done a pretty good job. They gave up just one goal to the Wild over the final two periods, and only 16 shots in that time, and Sunday held the highly skilled Avs to just one goal — a fluke — and outshot them 37-34.

 

"I think we’re playing more consistent," Noel said. "We’ve talked about that a little bit more. A season isn’t built on two games, but we’ll certainly take the positives out of the two games and try to build. I thought we got good production from a lot of forwards."

 

Call him Al

 

All the talk heading into the game was about the jumbled Jets goaltending situation.

 

Backup Al Montoya earned the net by claiming Friday’s mop-up victory in relief of Ondrej Pavelec and he was very solid again Sunday, including one very huge overtime save just before Winnipeg’s winning play.

 

"They’re a good transition team that has a lot of dangerous weapons," Montoya said. "We shut that down. I thought we did a good job especially in the second and third. We wanted to have that third guy high to limit their chances and we stuck with that.

 

"This win’s nice but we can’t fool ourselves," the goalie said. "We’ve got a lot of work to do. It starts tomorrow at practice."

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 30, 2013 C1

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