WINNIPEG — Ondrej Pavelec may slowly be silencing some critics, but the Winnipeg Jets goalie is living in the moment.
Pavelec stopped 38 shots as the Jets (35-23-12) reclaimed an NHL playoff spot with a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
It was Palevec’s second straight win (15-14-7) and his first consecutive starts since late November. Rookie Michael Hutchinson has gotten the nod in net lately, and most of the adulation this season.
"Now is now," Pavelec said of finally getting back-to-back starts again. "I don’t care what happened before. My job is to be ready whenever I have a chance to play."
Pavelec said he didn’t see it as a vote of confidence when coach Paul Maurice put him back in net after backstopping Winnipeg in a 2-1 win in Tampa Bay last Saturday.
"No, that doesn’t matter. If you play two games in three nights or one game in seven nights, you still have to put in the effort," he said.
"So it’s nice. It’s nice to be back in the net, that’s for sure, but that’s pretty much it."
Blake Wheeler scored twice and added an assist to help the Jets’ playoff hopes.
After Tuesday’s games, Winnipeg’s 82 points gives it the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Jets are now one point ahead of Calgary, which lost to St. Louis later Tuesday, and idle Los Angeles. The Kings hold a game in hand and are sitting third in the Pacific Division.
The Jets mounted a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals by Adam Lowry, Mark Scheifele and Andrew Ladd. Blake Wheeler scored his first of the game in the second period and added another in the third.
Scheifele and Drew Stafford had a pair of assists and Ladd also contributed a helper for Winnipeg, which was starting a three-game homestand.
Joe Pavelski scored twice and Joe Thornton assisted on both goals for the Sharks (34-28-8), who were starting a seven-game road trip.
Antti Niemi started his sixth straight game for the San Jose, but was replaced by Alex Stalock after letting in three goals on eight shots. Stalock made 12 saves.
"We’ve got (Niemi’s) back and he has ours," Pavelski said. "He’s bailed us out plenty of times, but as a group we’ve got to do more."
Pavelec knows what it’s like to have an off night.
The veteran netminder had taken some heat after he let in a late Barret Jackman shot from outside the blue-line in a 5-4 loss to St. Louis last Tuesday.
Hutchinson started the next game, a 4-2 loss to Florida, but then Maurice put Pavelec in against Tampa and he turned aside 15 shots for the road win.
His teammates rallied around him the past week and continued after the victory over San Jose.
"Tonight, he got a little bit more action than he did in Tampa Bay, but when we needed him to make the big stops, he made some big ones for us," Wheeler said.
Stafford said the win in Tampa was big for Pavelec’s confidence.
"We’re all cheering him on and we knew he was going to bounce back," Stafford said.
"Like I said, he’s got a lot of pride in his game. So for him to come out and have another stellar performance like this, it’s great for him and it’s obviously good for us as well so we’re happy for him."
San Jose, five points back of the Kings, travels to Toronto Thursday and Winnipeg hosts St. Louis the same night.
"We can sit in a corner and cry if we wanted to, but that’s not going to help one bit," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
"I said this morning if something negative happens we have to park it, and move on. We have no other option. So we get back to work tomorrow, we get some energy in our group, and we start again against Toronto."