DENVER — It was a strange sight to hit refresh on NHL.com’s standings page and finally see the Winnipeg Jets posted above the playoff border in the Eastern Conference.
For the first time all season the Jets are in a playoff position and now will begin to embark on the challenge of staying above the line where the top eight teams in the conference reside.
The Jets pounded the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 at the Pepsi Centre to vault into eighth place in the East with 39 points.
"It means a lot to us to finally get above the line. For us it’s good, but our focus will be winning the next game at home, and then we’ll go from there. Hopefully we can stay above the line. That’s going to be the key for us," said Jets coach Claude Noel.
The position is precarious, with the Ottawa Senators sitting in ninth, but also with 39 points. Winnipeg has a game in hand on the Sens and that gives the Jets the tiebreaker and a view from above the playoff line for the first time since the season began.
Just ahead of the Jets and also with 39 points are the New Jersey Devils while the Toronto Maple Leafs hold down sixth spot with 40 points. The Jets will get the chance to try and soften the Leafs record when they meet up Saturday night at MTS Centre.
The Jets can thank goalie Ondrej Pavelec for the win — hell that can be said about Winnipeg goaltending any night they claim a win — as he was his usual brilliant self, stopping 32 of 33 shots.
Pavelec was strong early allowing his team to charge out to a 4-0 lead and then battled down the stretch to make sure the margin stood up to give the Jets their 17th win of the season and fifth on the road.
"Our defencemen, with some major pressure, handled themselves pretty well. Pavelec made some huge saves, and we got some timely goals. I was happy that we finally got a shot in the first period after about the eight-minute mark," said Noel. "We knew they played (Monday night) and travelled, so getting the first goal really helped us. We managed the puck fairly well. The way Pavelec was playing, we recognized it might’ve been enough to win the game."
The road win is huge for Winnipeg as they’ve been outstanding at home of late, taking seven wins in their last 10 openings at home but had lost seven of their last eight away from Winnipeg coming into the match.
"It’s been so long since we’ve really been on the road for any length of time. I don’t think our team really looks at our road record as of late and thinks, ‘Well, this is what we are.’ We have a better handle on our identity, and we have a way better handle on how we played," said Noel.
Left winger Evander Kane snapped a cold streak with a pair of goals after going without one for seven straight games. Tim Stapleton and Jim Slater added the other Winnipeg markers.
"We stayed out of the box which was key because they have a real good power play. A solid game all around for us," said Slater. "The altitude affects guys. But we had oxygen on the bench and once you get past the first period you get your second wind. It’s a rough place to come into if you haven’t been here in a while but we found a way to get it done."
The road record is now 5-8-4 for Winnipeg, while they are 12-6-1 at home.
Kane scored his first of the night taking a pass from Blake Wheeler and zipping a wrist shot past Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Gigeure.
Stapleton then popped in a power-play goal for his fifth of the season.
Kane made it 3-0 before the second period ended as he missed on a breakaway but stuck with it and cashed in from the slot off a pass from Chris Thorburn.
Slater scored the fourth goal deep in the third as he took a feed from Tanner Glass and scored as he fell to the ice.
Kevin Porter broke Pavelec’s bid for a shutout, as he scored late in the third.