WINNIPEG – Aaron Gagnon’s first NHL goal was a big one for the Winnipeg Jets.
Gagnon scored the winner Tuesday to help the Winnipeg Jets lock up a key 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
“The first one always is the one you remember for the rest of your life,” said the 26-year-old from Quesnel, B.C., playing his third game this season after being called up from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. “I guess you couldn’t get’em at a better time, especially right now when we’re trying to claw our way back in the playoff race here.”
It was the second win in a row for the Jets (20-19-2) during a six-game homestand that will likely determine whether or not the club makes the post-season.
“I think we like what we’ve done the last two games but there’s a long way to go here and we’ve got to keep our foot on the pedal,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who had a goal and an assist in the second period Tuesday.
Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel said his team has to use the same formula Thursday when they face the Florida Panthers, currently last in the Eastern Conference: “Patience and comfort and work.”
The win left the Jets tied on points at 42 with the New York Rangers, who still held the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Washington Capitals remained two points ahead at the top of the Southeast Division after a win in Montreal.
The Jets have played more games than most teams in the East, although the gap is narrowing.
Gagnon’s goal came on a pass from Dustin Byfuglien that found him in the slot in front of Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. It was a mirror image of Kyle Wellwood’s opening goal just five minutes earlier in the second period on a pass from Evander Kane.
“I was hoping he’d look for me there,” said Gagnon. “I just tried to find a soft spot and he fed a nice one in there for me.”
Blake Wheeler scored Winnipeg’s final goal into an empty net.
Kevin Porter replied for the Sabres (16-18-6) and spoiled what could have been Ondrej Pavelec’s first shutout of the season in the third. His shot glanced off Wheeler and Pavelec finished with 29 saves.
Pavelec also passed the 6,000-save mark Tuesday night.
Sabres interim head coach Ron Rolston said they turned things on in the third but it was a case of too little too late.
“We were lucky to get some bounces there but again there was a couple of odd-man rushes we didn’t even get a shot on net, obviously that’s important,” he said.
The Jets dominated early. The first period looked like a Winnipeg power play until the last few minutes and it took almost seven minutes for the Sabres to put a shot on the board.
Both teams struck out on their real power-play opportunities—three for the Sabres and one for the Jets—and Winnipeg relied on Pavelec’s goaltending once again to keep them out of trouble.
“I thought Pavelec really helped at key times,” said Noel. “Games like that can really get away from you and I think that’s one of the things that we don’t talk very much about, we just assume that these goaltenders just stop pucks … he gives you that comfort.”
Winnipeg defenceman Tobias Enstrom and Little headed to the Winnipeg dressing room during the first. Little took a puck on the wrist from a teammate but returned to the game and Noel said Enstrom, who didn’t come back, was suffering from strained muscles and will be evaluated day-to-day.
Note to readers: CORRECTS No. of Sabre power plays to 3