OTTAWA — Alexei Ponikarovsky played down the redemption card on Saturday afternoon but it was a winning ace for the Winnipeg Jets.
The 32-year-old left-winger, who took an ill-advised late penalty that paved the way for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 3-2 victory in Winnipeg on Thursday, went into a hero’s role at Scotiabank Place.
He tipped in Kyle Wellwood’s shot at 5:57 of the third period and it stood up as the winner in the Jets’ 1-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
"It’s totally on you and you have to make sure you don’t do that in the next game," Ponikarovsky said about Thursday. "I just tried to work hard, do my job and I’m glad to get this win."
No classic from the start, the Jets had pressure and the smarter plays early. Ottawa had a late power play that changed the momentum somewhat. Al Montoya, who started off his third career NHL shutout with 12 first-period saves, made a good one on Stephane Da Costa while Ben Bishop, in the Ottawa net, had to be good to stop James Wright of the Jets.
A wilder period featured turnovers in bad places by both teams, but the goalies were up to the challenge. The Jets may have had a slight edge in the quality of chances and again, Ottawa had the only power play of the period. Montoya had a fine save off Sergei Gonchar, while Jets’ winger Evander Kane hit the post.
Winnipeg had an early power play, its only one of the game on a phantom tripping call to Zack Smith, but did nothing with it.
Ponikarovsky then went to the right spot to tip Kyle Wellwood’s shot off both posts behind Bishop. Wellwood had gobbled up an Erik Karlsson turnover.
"I just was able to get a turnover and I knew guys were going to the net and I didn’t have a pass so I waited and I saw Poni going to the net and I just tried to shoot it at him and hoped he’d screen the goalie and it just went in," Wellwood said. "That’s the strategy. The last few games, we try to get close, play good defensively but try to funnel pucks to the net and have them go in. Tonight was the night it went in."
Winnipeg held on, helped by a third successful penalty kill on a hooking call to Toby Enstrom at 11:16.
"I think our penalty-kill had a good start to the game so they were a little more confident," Wellwood said. "Al was playing great and it was a different feeling on the bench as far as being able to close it out."
After the buzzer
Was this possibly something of a lesson learned after Thursday’s third-period lead turned into a loss to Toronto?
"I’m hoping," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I think that we have (learned). Our focus tonight was really more on playing the right way from start to finish. Playing 60 minutes. Now we had some bumps in there but we had some really good moments in there, too, where I thought we could have been up.
"First and second period, we had some really good chances. But I think we understand the value of patience and just playing the right way."
Ponikarovsky said attention to the balance of emotion for the season helped him and the Jets bounce back from Thursday.
"You know what, for sure you look back at the game and you analyze it and you go from there," Ponikarovsky said. "It’s a short season, you have to go through some emotions for sure but go through some analysis and just go to the next game and play hard and make sure you don’t have something like that happen again."