Pavelec ‘felt great’ in first game back with the Jets since fall

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Ondrej Pavelec, for all his perceived faults, has always been good with a poker face.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/02/2016 (2485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Ondrej Pavelec, for all his perceived faults, has always been good with a poker face.

So when he gave away his hand after Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout win in Edmonton, his first game since Nov. 21, the Winnipeg Jets No. 1 goalie surprised even himself.

Pavelec was smiling and chatty and cut down drastically on his clichés, just like his Jets teammates cut down the chances they allowed to get to him at Rexall Place.

JASON FRANSON / The Canadian Press Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) makes the save on Edmonton Oilers' Zack Kassian (44) as Mark Stuart (5) defends during third period NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday.

“When did I feel like myself? In the warmup, to be honest,” said Pavelec, who missed 33 games because of a knee injury. “You never know what you’re going to get. And in the second period, I was really surprised how I felt. Some saves helped me get confidence, but I felt great before the game.”

He made 21 saves in the hockey part of the game, then stopped two of the three shootout attempts — including the final act by rookie Connor McDavid — to get the Jets the win.

“They hit the post in OT and we could have lost,” Pavelec said. “But for me, I was a little bit surprised at how I felt but it has a lot to do with the guys, how they played in front of me. We didn’t give up 25 shots in the first period, so that might be a different story.

“But we handled it really well. They have skill. Me, it’s a good win. Nice to be back.”

The game was played on a sheet of ice that wasn’t great, an exception in Edmonton. But it took morning skates by the two NHL teams, then a WHL game in the afternoon before the Hockey Night in Canada encounter.

In the shootout, Jets winger Blake Wheeler fumbled the puck on the way in on Oilers goalie Laurent Brossoit, but recovered and pulled the pack back to tuck it in the net to give the Jets the advantage.

When McDavid came in needing to score to extend the shootout, Pavelec flashed a poke-check and the rookie misfired, ending the game.

“No, to be honest, I was just waiting for the first move,” Pavelec said of McDavid’s chance. “I was really expecting something crazy because I’ve never seen him in a shootout. I know he’s got skills but I don’t know what his move is and I was just guessing.

“(Jordan) Eberle scored on a perfect shot so I expected he was going to shoot it as well. Lucky there.”

Pavelec, who’s been an NHL regular since 2009, said there’s always some doubt after any long layoff, whether summer or injury.

“I felt really good lately on the ice,” he said. “For me it was just another game to play. I just tried to stay focused and calm because sometimes you get too nervous and too excited.

“It’s definitely nice to be back but the guys in front of me did a great job.”

The Oilers didn’t have a shot on goal until past the seven-minute mark of the game, but Pavelec said that being busy or bored is a hard choice.

“Always a tough question. If you don’t see shots, then you can let a goal in,” he said. “Or you see a lot of shots and let two in and …. when I made the first touch on the puck, I felt great.

“I really did think I was going to be more nervous. And no shots in (seven) minutes, I wondered if that would make me more nervous. And that penalty kill in the first period, really helped a lot. A lot of blocked shots in front of me.”

For his successful return, raising his season record to 6-6-1, Pavelec was awarded the game MVP fighter-pilot helmet by his teammates.

“It’s been a while,” he smiled. “No, not proud of that, I’m proud of how I handled the game, the morning skate, the whole day. But it’s only one game. Lots of games in front of us.”

The victory, giving the Jets a mark of 5-0-1 in their last six road games, was popular in the dressing room.

“I’ve played with him my whole career over here,” said Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom. “He’s a great guy, works hard and a relaxed guy. And it’s pretty nice to see when your goalie’s relaxed and always in a good mood. I’ve got only positive things to say about Pav.”

Enstrom wasn’t interested in comparisons after the game, asked if there was any difference in the team’s demeanour with Pavelec back and Connor Hellebuyck gone back to the AHL’s Moose.

“There’s no difference,” Enstrom said. “Connor and Hutch (Michael Hutchinson) have been playing good for us, too. But having Pav back in net, that was a lot of fun seeing him play again. I think he was looking forward to that one. He was excited and so were we. He made some huge saves and gave us these two points.”

The Jets traveled to Raleigh today and meet the Hurricanes on Tuesday night. The trip continues on to Tampa on Thursday and Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday.

Winnipeg kept pace in the Western Conference playoff race on Saturday, staying eight points back of the final post-season spot.

Difficult games lie ahead this week, Enstrom said.

“I think we have lots more to give, definitely,” he said. “Hopefully we can show that for the push here to the playoffs. We’re going to need that (pace). Coming into Carolina and Florida and Tampa, those teams play fast hockey so we’re going to have to step up a little bit.”

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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