Jets rattle Sabres

Jets teammates Alexander Burmistrov (left to right), Ron Hainsey, Andrew Ladd and Nik Antropov...

Jets teammates Alexander Burmistrov (left to right), Ron Hainsey, Andrew Ladd and Nik Antropov celebrate a goal against the Sabres at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Jan. 19, 2012. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency)

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:24 AM ET

WINNIPEG - You know that old mantra about desperate times calling for desperate measures?

The shoe certainly fit on this night for the Winnipeg Jets, who got an inspired performance and a critical 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday before a crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre.

Sensing the importance of trying to stop a January nose-dive that was threatening to spiral out of control, the Jets came out flying and delivered a roundhouse right straight to the chin of the reeling Sabres, who lost their 11th consecutive road game but were threatening to move within two points of the Jets in the Eastern Conference standings.

Instead, the Jets found a way to go up six points on the Sabres and stopped a two-game home losing skid in the process.

"Everyone knows they're all big right now, especially with the team right behind us and a game we feel we should win," said Ladd, who combined with linemates Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood on a six-point night. "It was nice to get a few bounces here and there and see some pucks go in."

One of the other big storylines in this one was the return of Blake Wheeler, who seemed to invigorate linemates Bryan Little and Evander Kane and showed no signs of missing the past two games with a neck injury sustained after blocking a shot.

"Having him in our lineup is great for our team and especially our line," said Little. "You could tell all night that we were all moving and playing a lot better with him out there. It takes the chemistry away when he's out."

Despite the lopsided final score, this was one of those games that makes coaches extremely nervous.

The Jets were dominant in the first period, but Sabres goalie Ryan Miller stopped 18 of 19 shots to keep his team in the game.

Many wondered if they inability to get the game to 2-0 would come back to bite the Jets and sure enough, the Sabres took advantage of an odd-man rush and got a goal from Drew Stafford to tie the contest early in the second period.

But rather than slip into -- here we go again mode -- the Jets got power-play goals from Tim Stapleton at 12:55 of the second and Toby Enstrom at 3:46 of the third to pull away.

The Jets power play had been struggling of late, going 0-for-12 in the past five games and 1-for-17 during the past seven, so finding a way to go 2-for-4 was a significant shot in the arm for a team that clearly needed one.

On the flip side, the Jets killed off both Sabres' power plays for a clean sweep of the special-teams battle.

"Our special teams were great. We got some big kills at key times and our power play came up with two big goals," said Ladd. "Special teams was really big, both in terms of getting momentum back and keeping it, at times."

Antropov rounded out the scoring with 80 seconds left in regulation, scoring for the first time since Dec. 20.

"I didn't have a great comfort level, really, until Antropov scored," said Jets head coach Claude Noel.

Comfort doesn't come easily when your team is 2-6 in the month of January.

But on the strength of this win, the Jets set themselves up for an important date on Saturday against the Florida Panthers -- currently three points ahead of them in the standings.

"They're not too far in front of us, they should definitely be in our sights," said Ladd.

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/WiebeSunSports


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