BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Winnipeg Jets won't be savoring Monday's 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres for very long.
That's because the biggest game of their season is right around the corner.
Antti Miettinen scored the game-winning goal with 7:36 remaining, and Ondrej Pavelec made 24 saves -- including a highlight-reel glove stop on Thomas Vanek with under six minutes to go -- to give the red-hot Jets two critical points in the final stage of the season.
With the win, the Jets (24-19-3) have 51 points -- one fewer than the Capitals, who sit atop the Southeast Division. The two teams square off Tuesday in Washington.
"This game means nothing now," Jets forward Evander Kane said. "We needed this game in order to make something of tomorrow. Tomorrow's the biggest game of our season."
Aaron Gagnon also scored for the Jets, who are 6-0-1 in their last seven games.
The Capitals have one game in hand on Winnipeg, meaning the Jets do not control their own destiny in the division race, but Tuesday's game could go a long way in deciding which team makes it to the postseason. After Tuesday, the Capitals end the season with home games against the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins. Winnipeg's lone game after Tuesday is home against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
The Jets are also one point behind the New York Rangers and Ottawa, who currently sit seventh and eighth in the Eastern Conference. Like the Capitals, the Rangers and Senators each have a game in hand on Winnipeg.
"It's a big game," Jets coach Claude Noel said of Tuesday's matchup. "For us, we know what's at stake. It's the time of the year that you put your best foot forward. They'll be coming for sure. They'll know exactly what we're doing, and we're going to have to put our best foot forward. ... We've got to give 'em our best."
Vanek scored for the Sabres, who fell to 19-21-6. Jhonas Enroth, making the start in place of Ryan Miller, was terrific between the pipes for the Sabres. Enroth had 37 saves overall, several of them highlight-reel stops.
"He actually kept us in it for most of the game," Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston said.
Miettinen scored the game-winner on a blast from the right point at 12:24 of the third. The shot hit Enroth under the goalie's left arm and continued into the net for the defenseman's third goal of the year.
"I had a couple guys in front of me there," Enroth said, "so I never really saw it until it hit my chest or whatever it hit."
The Jets opened the scoring at 7:22 of the second period on their 22nd shot of the game. Defenseman Derek Meech skated past Buffalo's Jochen Hecht along the left boards and fed Gagnon, who redirected the puck into the top of the net. It was Gagnon's third goal of the season.
Buffalo tied the game on the power play just over four minutes later on Vanek's 18th goal of the season. Tyler Ennis found Vanek camped in the slot, and Buffalo's leading scorer redirected the puck past Pavelec. Vanek moved into a three-way tie for third in the NHL with nine power-play goals.
The Jets got off to a quick start but were unable to capitalize on any of their chances within the first 20 minutes.
Kane nearly opened the scoring at 14:59 after being awarded a penalty shot. Kane was illegally taken down on his initial breakaway attempt, but the forward's wrister on the penalty shot was stopped by Enroth. Enroth got a piece of Kane's shot with his glove, and the puck deflected off the cross bar and over the net. Winnipeg outshot Buffalo 15-4 in the opening period and outshot the Sabres 39-25 overall.
"I don't think it's a secret that we probably have to win the last three games to get into the postseason, so tonight was the first step," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "We didn't want to get ahead of ourselves, but now we've taken that step and we can focus on Washington tomorrow and the biggest game of the year for us.
"I think it's been circled on our calendar for a long time now. We wanted to put ourselves in a position where tomorrow's going to be a meaningful game, and we've done that. So here it is."
NOTES: Jets center Kyle Wellwood will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a hand injury against the Sabres. ... Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko played in his first game with the Sabres since March 12; the rookie was sent down to his junior team, the Quebec Remparts, following that contest. Grigorenko returned to the Sabres after the Remparts were eliminated from the QMJHL playoffs. ... Ville Leino (upper body), Patrick Kaleta (hand) and Tyler Myers (broken leg) were scratched for the Sabres. ... Jacob Trouba, Olli Jokinen, Anthony Peluso, Arturs Kulda, Zach Redmond, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Nik Antropov were scratched for the Jets. ... This was the 51st meeting all-time between Buffalo and Winnipeg/Atlanta. It was also the third and final meeting between the teams this season
By Mark Ludwiczak, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: April 22, 2013 11:03:31 PM
Jets win, set up showdown with Caps
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