Thursday, March 20, 2014
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Wheeler breaks drought, wins it in OT for Jets

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[March 20, 2014]  WINNIPEG, Manitoba  It is not often that you call Blake Wheeler a reluctant goal scorer.

But after a 10-game goalless drought, the Winnipeg Jets winger was looking for somebody  anybody  when he burst into the Colorado Avalanche zone early in the overtime period Wednesday night.

When the lanes for winger Michael Frolich, and then defenseman Paul Postma, closed up, the U.S. Olympian waited, and waited, and waited, before finally firing the game winner past Avalanche goaltender Reto Berra at 1:42 of the extra frame.

The 5-4 victory was just the Jets second in eight games but it kept their playoffs hopes alive. It improved their record to 32-30-9, good for 73 points. The Jets are still four points behind the Phoenix Coyotes, who hold down the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes have two games in hand.

"I knew Fro (Frolik) and I had a two-on-one and I wanted to get it over to him. It's been a tough go for me scoring goals so I was trying to find him. I kept holding on to it and waiting for something to open up. Then I saw Postie (defenseman Paul Postma) flying back door, I wanted to slide it open to him and I kept it a little bit longer. On that little pump fake to Postie, (Berra) slid over and I looked up and saw that I had the net, I was pretty happy to finally see it hit the net," he said.


When asked if he had heard the crowd of 15,003 yelling shoot as he cruised through the slot, seemingly at glacial speed, he laughed and said it's a good thing the Jets don't listen to the fans.

"I didn't hear anything, my hands and my head and legs finally connected at the same time," he said.

"My hands have felt good. I've gotten results and helped set up some teammates. I almost get a bigger joy out of seeing other guys score than scoring myself. I love to be the guy holding on to the puck and finding guys who are open and see the joy on their face. It's like a kid at Christmas sometimes."

Wheeler's patience didn't go unnoticed by Avalanche coach Patrick Roy.

"Wheeler made a great play and scored a nice goal. It was a nice individual effort on the entry. He showed great patience and he's having a great year for them," he said.

Roy said he was happy with the play of his goaltender, who was starting his first game with the Avalanche. The Swiss native previously played for the Calgary Flames.

"I think he got beat on nice shots. You could tell he was a little bit nervous. When the game was on the line at 4-4, he made some good saves for us," he said.

"For a first game, he did a good job. He didn't make a lot of big saves but he didn't let any softies in either. They scored on nice shots."

Jets coach Paul Maurice said he was happy with his team's effort, particularly Postma, who filled in for fellow defenseman Zach Bogosian, who came off the ice five minutes into the pre-game warmup. Postma has missed most of the season due to a blood clot.

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Maurice thought he was a bit tentative in the first period but performed well for the rest of the game.

"That's the first time I've seen what he can do. He was out such an awfully long time. He was a different player (after the first period). He was coming up the ice with some speed and showing some things I hadn't seen before," he said.

The see-saw battle had five one-goal leads, with the Jets holding four of them. The Avalanche opened the scoring 20 seconds into the game when center Ryan O'Reilly's shot banked off of Jets center Bryan Little and behind goaltender Al Montoya.

Jets left winger Andrew Ladd responded less than three minutes later.

The loss dropped the Avalanche to 44-21-5 for 93 points, still well above the playoff line.

NOTES: The Jets were without RW Dustin Byfuglien, who was injured late in the team's 3-1 loss to St. Louis on Monday night. ... If a team's penalty kill translated directly into wins, the Jets would be sitting in the catbird seat. A streak of 18 straight successful penalty kills ended in St. Louis on Tuesday. On the road, the Jets had been successful 40 consecutive times with the man disadvantage. ... Each of the four games between these two teams prior to Wednesday had been decided by one goal. The Avalanche are 3-0-1. The Jets are fourth in the league with 38 one-goal games. ... The Avalanche did not take a pre-game skate Wednesday after arriving in town following a 6-3 loss in Montreal on Tuesday. ... It marked Patrick Roy's first game in Montreal as the Avalanche coach. He played 10 years for the Canadiens, winning two Stanley Cups, before being traded to the Avalanche in 1995. ... The Avalanche are 4-3-0 in the second game of back-to-back contests this season. ... Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was spotted chatting with Jets owner Mark Chipman in the press box. ... Avalanche LW Cody McLeod was born in Binscarth, Manitoba (pop. 425), located 3 1/2 hours northwest of Winnipeg. ... Avalanche C Nathan MacKinnon's 13-game point streak was stopped March 6, an NHL record for 18-year-olds. The previous record holder was a kid named Wayne Gretzky in the 1979-80 season.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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