BUFFALO - Even if Johnny Oduya hadn’t played the unlikely hero Saturday night, the Winnipeg Jets would’ve been feeling a lot better about themselves after a solid bounce back game.
Coming off a pair of crushing losses to the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the team was facing a lot of questions about its inability to win games on the road.
Clearly there is a lot of pride in the Jets dressing room and they weren’t about to let it happen three games in a row. They skated better right off the hop, checked the same way they did during a three-game winning streak just after Christmas and did a lot of little things right.
The result was a 2-1 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres, with low-scoring defenceman Oduya stepping up and roofing the winner 57 seconds into the extra frame.
“That kind of surprised our whole bench,” Jets coach Claude Noel said of Oduya’s winner. “We weren’t sure if he’d hit the net or what would happen, but Johnny came down and made it look like he was a sniper, and put it up there with the peanut butter.”
Jets left-winger Evander Kane, who was the best player on the ice all night, made a brilliant play to set up the winner, pulling up just inside the blue-line, drawing three Buffalo defenders toward him and threading a hard pass through the maze to a wide-open Oduya.
“It was a great pass by Kaner,” said Oduya, who beat a rock-solid Jhonas Enroth on the Jets 41st shot of the net. “I don’t know how I got that open but it worked out. Obviously, I didn’t think that much, just tried to get a good shot off.”
Kane, the Jets leading goal scorer, is not normally noted for his passing skills, but this one was right on the tape.
“I’m done scoring goals, it’s strictly passing now,” Kane laughed.
Oduya’s goal brought equal amounts of joy and relief to the Jets bench. Another loss on this night and it might have started to feel like things were slipping away, much like they did last year when the Atlanta Thrashers faded badly in the new year.
“Just to win the game was a big relief for us,” said Noel, whose team also got a goal from Blake Wheeler, on a two-man advantage with four seconds left in the second period.
The Sabres and their fans thought they had the game won with just a couple of minutes left in regulation. Sabres left-winger Ville Leino dug the puck out of Ondrej Pavelec’s pads and put it in the net. But the whistle had blown and Pavelec said it was an easy call.
“I had it between my arm my pad, so good call,” Pavelec said. “The guy just put his stick in there and grabbed the puck. There’s no way that it was a goal. I heard the whistle when I had it so I was 100% sure it was no goal. He knew it too probably.”
So the Jets proved to themselves and their fans they can play a good team game on the road.
The big question is: Can they do it consistently?
Now’s as good a time as any to find out, with the defending champion Bruins up next, Tuesday in Boston.
“This was exactly what we needed,” Pavelec said. “You are not going to play great all season and it’s always about how you respond and how you bounce back.”
JETS FLIGHT RECORDER
Winnipeg Jets (20-16-5) 2 Buffalo Sabres (18-18-5) 1 (OT)
The Three Stars
1. Jets LW Evander Kane … Was a force all night and made a great play to set up the winning goal
2. Sabres G Jhonas Enroth … Kept the Sabres in it despite facing 41 shots
3. Jets RW Blake Wheeler … Was back to skating very well and had some dominant shifts
Coming off two bad performances in Toronto and Montreal, the Jets play a solid road game, withstand a late surge by the Sabres to get to overtime and low-scoring defenceman Johnny Oduya roofs one for the game-winner in the extra period.
OFFENCE B … Kane, Wheeler and Little generated lots of chances, contributed a goal, and helped set up winner
DEFENCE B+ … Tons of blocked shots again and Oduya steps up to score the winner.
GOALTENDING A … Ondrej Pavelec was his usual self. Nothing flashy but very reliable
The Jets have two nights off before playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins Tuesday in Boston.