|The Winnipeg Jets' Jim Slater (behind net) and Lee Stempniak celebrate a Dustin Byfuglien shot that trickled through the legs of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Dustin Tokarski. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)|
Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec earned the full support of the hometown crowd Thursday night against Montreal.
Pavelec made 39 saves for his sixth consecutive win as the Jets downed the Canadiens 5-2 at the MTS Centre.
Fans were already chanting “Pavy, Pavy” after he stopped 20 shots in the first period alone to keep a 1-0 Winnipeg lead alive.
“Yes, I heard it. It’s always nice,” Pavelec said with a small smile.
“I’m happy I can help the team to get the win and that’s all that matters right now. So, really, I don’t want to talk about myself. It’s a team sport and we find a way.”
With the victory the Jets (39-24-12) remain in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 90 points– three points ahead of idle Calgary.
Mark Scheifele and Jim Slater had a goal and an assist apiece for Winnipeg, while Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Adam Lowry also scored.
Dustin Tokarski stopped 17 of 22 shots for the Canadiens (46-21-8), who were resting starter Carey Price. Andrei Markov and Brendan Gallagher scored for Montreal.
Even Tokarski praised Pavelec after a night in which he heard Montreal fans inside the arena call out “Carey, Carey” in the third period.
“You guys saw it. It’s a pretty epic performance by him,” Tokarski said of Pavelec. “We played a good game. I’d have liked to make a few more saves out there, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
The victory kicked off a four-game homestand for the Jets, who are now 12-2-2 in their last 16 games at MTS Centre. They host Chicago on Sunday.
Byfuglien, back on the ice after missing nine games with an upper-body injury, punctuated his return by scoring his 16th goal of the season at 12:33 of the first period when his shot trickled under Tokarski’s pads.
“The team played well and we stuck to our game plan and Pavelec played great for us,” said Byfuglien, who logged 18:29 of ice time.
The Canadiens outshot the Jets 20-5 in the opening period and extended that to 31-13 after the second.
“He was the difference in the game,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said of Pavelec.
“I thought we played really solid. We were ready to play. We dictated the game, we dictated the pace, and Pavelec was outstanding.”
The teams combined for a trio of goals in just over three minutes in the second, starting after two Canadiens collided into each other behind their own net.
Jets defenceman Tyler Myers stole the puck, passed it to Scheifele out front and he flipped it over Tokarski at 6:05 for his 14th goal of the season and the 2-0 lead.
Markov’s shot from inside the blue-line 41 seconds later beat Pavelec to make it 2-1, but Slater had a rebound bounce off his skate past Tokarski at 9:13 as the Jets regained the two-goal cushion.
“They threw up a lot of shots and Pavy, obviously, gave us the confidence there that he was definitely in it tonight,” Slater said.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was an all-out good effort for all of us.”
Wheeler scored his 24th goal of the season with one minute left in the second. Drew Stafford earned an assist, extending his career-high points streak to eight games with four goals and six helpers.
Gallagher, playing in his 200th NHL career game, made it 4-2 at 11:37 of the third, but Lowry scored 45 seconds later.
“We were able to create some scoring chances, but there’s a difference between creating them and putting them in,” Gallagher said. “I think we need to bear down, myself included.”
Andrew Ladd assisted on Lowry’s goal, tying his career high of 59 points set in the 2010-11 season. The assist was his 35th of the season– also a career high over the 34 he had in 2008-09.
The Jets had only beaten the Canadiens once at MTS Centre in four attempts heading into Thursday’s game.