The Winnipeg Jets defeated the New York Rangers 3-1 Thursday to take sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Just a few weeks ago it seemed as though the Jets would slide to the bottom of the standings, as two tough road trips approached. Fast forward to the middle of March and not only did the Jets have success on the road; they are currently one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Winnipeg got off to a perfect start against the Rangers, with Nik Antropov scoring on the power play less than two minutes in.
A critical point in the game came midway through the period, when Marian Gaborik was awarded a penalty shot.
The puck skipped on Gaborik as he skated toward the net, but he still managed to get decent attempt off. Ondrej Pavelec made the stop, which seemed to set the tone for the goaltender. He was brilliant throughout the game, stopping 28 of 29 shots to earn the win.
Ryan Callahan scored the lone goal for the Rangers early in the second, tipping home a Derek Stepan shot.
Another deflection, this time for the Jets, proved to be the game winner. Dustin Byfuglien took a shot from the point that hit Antti Miettinen and somehow got through Henrik Lundqvist.
Bryan Little made the unselfish, and smart play late in the third with New York's net empty. Instead of taking a shot from center ice, Little dished the puck to an open Andrew Ladd on his wing, who sealed the win.
The Jets got the best of the Rangers physically, outhitting them 46-33. Even more importantly, they stayed out of the penalty box. And, when the Rangers were applying good pressure, Pavelec bailed his team out.
With the win, the Jets improve to 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, which includes a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, two wins over the Rangers and a win and a shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils.
The question now is: can Winnipeg continue to build on this hot streak?
If the last couple games are any indication, they certainly could.
The Jets are playing a smart, physical brand of hockey and constantly putting pucks on net. They are taking less penalties and finally starting to show signs of improvement on special teams.
Winnipeg’s best players have been playing at a high level for most of the season, specifically on offense. Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane all have at least 10 goals and 20 points through 27 games.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s secondary scorers who were nowhere to be found early in the season, are finally starting to show signs of life. Nick Antropov, Kyle Wellwood and Antti Miettinen have all contributed in recent games.
However, the most significant factor has been the suddenly consistent play of Ondrej Pavelec. The 25-year-old Czech netminder is starting to perform at the level that was expected of him heading into this season.
Plus, let’s not forget, the Jets will get Tobias Enstrom back at some point. Enstrom was brilliant in 13 games before getting injured, registering 13 points. His return should provide a big boost to the defense and help Byfuglien, his regular partner, to play even better.
As far as the schedule goes, the Jets don’t face too many tough opponents down the stretch, although that’s mostly due to the fact that they’re in NHL’s worst division. The majority of their remaining games are at home against teams currently below them in the standings.
The most important dates to circle on the calendar if you’re a Jets fan are March 26, March 28 and April 18. The Jets will take on the Carolina Hurricanes on those days, the team that’s just a point ahead of them for the Southeast Division lead.