BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Having eked out a win over the Buffalo Sabres, Evander Kane and the Winnipeg Jets were already looking ahead to the next big test in their late-season bid to make the playoffs: Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
"This game means nothing now," said Kane, referring to the Jets' 2-1 win over the Sabres on Monday night. "We needed this game in order to make something of tomorrow. Tomorrow's the biggest game of our season."
Antti Miettinen's shot from the right circle that just dribbled in over the goal line with 7:36 remaining proved to be the difference in keeping the Jets in the playoff race.
Winnipeg (24-19-3) improved to 6-0-1 in its past seven and moved within a point of the idle New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, who hold the Eastern Conference's final two playoff spots. Just as important, the Jets also crept to within a point of Southeast Division-leading Washington. That sets up a critical showdown on Tuesday, when Winnipeg travels to play the Capitals in the final week of the season.
"I think it's been circled on our calendar for a long time now," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "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."
The win didn't come easily against a Sabres team that was playing for pride — having been eliminated from contention following an 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers on Friday — and riding a hot goalie in Jhonas Enroth.
Enroth was nearly the difference in stopping 37 shots, including Kane's first-period penalty shot.
He had little chance to stop the two that got past him. Aaron Gagnon opened the scoring 7:32 into the second period by redirecting in Derek Meech's centering pass. And then there was Miettinen's shot that found its way in through a crowd in front.
The shot sneaked in under Enroth's left arm and had enough to dribble in behind him.
Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec then preserved the victory by stopping 24 shots, including a huge glove save on Thomas Vanek with 5:45 left. Allowed to walk in from the right circle, Vanek held the puck waiting for a hole to open up and then snapped a shot, which Pavelec snagged with a quick wave of his glove.
"It just hit my glove. I don't know what to say," Pavelec said. "I think the guys deserve my help, because they played really well, and that's our job: to make the save."
Vanek scored the lone goal for Buffalo (19-21-6), which has lost six straight against the Jets.