The Winnipeg Jets dug deep into the how-to handbook on Saturday afternoon to give themselves some valuable breathing room in this feverish playoff chase.



Facing a feisty Nashville Predators club that has given them all sorts of trouble this season, the Jets survived a somewhat lethargic start, thanks to the razor-sharp netminding of Ondrej Pavelec, who finished the game with 39 saves and was especially dialed in during the first period when the guys in front of him had difficulty finding their skating legs.

A perfect six-for-six afternoon from the top-ranked penalty killing unit on the road in the entire NHL was another big factor as the Jets came away with a 3-1 victory over the Predators at Bridgestone Arena, defeating their Central Division rival for just the second time in five tries.

“(Pavelec) was our best player,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, whose team is now 11-3-1 since he took over on Jan. 12. “You kind of felt that maybe after the first period, that we had weathered that storm. We had four-and-a-half minutes shorthanded and that’s too just much for a period of hockey. You just felt that the first team that scored was going to have a real leg up, more than in a normal game. For them, if they had scored, it would have been a confirmation that they’d been playing so well. For us, our third period was our best period. We played well there.

“Goaltending and penalty killing is the reason we had a chance to win the game. Then we made the most of our opportunities.”

Not surprisingly, Pavelec was the Jets’ best penalty killer in this one.

At the midway point of the first period, the Jets hadn’t generated a single shot on goal and had spent much of their time on their heels, not to mention chasing the puck.

But the Jets found a bit of traction with some strong movement on what turned out to be their lone power play opportunity of the night.

While they didn’t find the back of the net, the Jets had five shots on goal during that man advantage, giving them a much-needed kickstart.

“It was key to stay 0-0 after the first,” said Pavelec, who earned his 20th win of the season. “It wasn’t easy.”

Nothing came easy for the Jets on this afternoon and nothing is going to come easy for them during the final 20 games either.

Being comfortable in white-knuckle contests is going to be crucial if the Jets are going to be able to chase down the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

“It’s going to be like that from here on out,” said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. “It’s playoff hockey and teams are clawing for position. You’re going to see that pretty much every gme.”

There was a chippy element to this game as well, which should be expected considering what is at stake.

“That’s the type of emotion we’re going to get down the stretch,” Ladd said. “Every team we’re playing is battling for their lives, for playoff spots and trying to jockey for position. Those are the affairs you’re going to get.”

It was veteran centre Olli Jokinen who broke the scoreless deadlock just past the five-minute mark of the second period, taking a crisp pass from Jacob Trouba before walking in and ripping a shot high over the glove of Carter Hutton.

“Anytime you get outshot 10-0 or whatever it was in the first 10 minutes, it’s a big thing when you’re able to get that first goal,” Jokinen said.

Ladd tipped home a point shot from Zach Bogosian with 1:42 left in the second period, providing the type of goal the Jets had often given up to take the wind out of their sails earlier this season.

Although the Predators didn’t go away and made things interesting on a goal from Simon Moser at 9:11 of the third, the Jets didn’t stray much from their structure and then locked things down when Devin Setoguchi poked in a rebound after a brilliant net drive by Blake Wheeler.