GLENDALE, Ariz. — The building was slow to empty and the lower bowl was scattered with folks in Winnipeg Jets jerseys celebrating the most hollow of victories Tuesday night.
The Winnipeg Jets defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in a shootout to give the legions of their fans that made the trip something to smile about.
The win keeps the Jets playoff hopes alive but they are very slim at this stage and well beyond Winnipeg’s control. They’ll need a lot of help to avoid missing the post-season for the third straight year since the NHL returned to Manitoba.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd was one of the goats on Monday night in an overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks but he was full value on Tuesday, scoring the Jets only goal in regulation and then popping the winner in the shootout by beating Coyotes goalie Thomas Greiss.
Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec stopped all but one Phoenix shot on the night, allowing a second- period goal by Zbynek Michalek but then running the table through overtime and the shootout.
Fans were all over Pavelec after Monday’s collapse that saw him allow three third-period goals and then another in overtime but head coach Paul Maurice defended his goalie Tuesday morning when announcing he would be going back in the net.
"You have to go back and look at the game. He played a helluva game and made some huge saves for us in the third period," said Maurice.
"They had some fine scoring chances and he played well."
Maurice also argued that Pavelec wouldn’t be tired and could handle the back-to-back games and he proved to be correct.
The Jets faced elimination from playoff contention had they lost in regulation.
Maurice wanted to see how his team handled the sting of blowing a four-goal lead in Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
"A loss with a lead is going to happen again. I’m worried about (Tuesday)," said Maurice prior to Tuesday night’s game.
"And when I say worried, that’s what our focus is. Put the list of adversity that we’re facing coming in here tonight, and now we gotta learn how to handle that, learn how to be ready on a night where your body and your mind doesn’t feel ready, you don’t feel fresh. They’re sitting for two days. They’re feeling like they’re right there in the playoffs, and we’re feeling like we got run over by a truck. So that’s what we’re dealing with, and we gotta figure out a way to come out with that fight."
Jets fans were out in full force with several thousand in attendance. When the Jets scored the opening goal, Jets jerseys popped up all over the building and it looked like half the folks in attendance were wearing Winnipeg gear. O Canada featured its ritual shouting of True North and it was one of the loudest road efforts of the season.