A number of years ago, when he was general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, Brian Burke made an astute statement about the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"We call them the Stanley Cup playoffs," said Burke, "because we can’t call them Goalie."
Burke was being funny, but he was dead on. Without great goaltending you can’t win the Stanley Cup (as the 2011 Boston Bruins will attest). In the case of the 2011-12 Winnipeg Jets, getting to the playoffs will be impossible without great goaltending.
Tuesday night, in front of another boisterous crowd, the Jets got a boffo performance from their 6-foot-3, 220-pound product of Kladno, Czech Republic. Winnipeg fell behind 1-0 and 2-1 and fought back both times before losing 3-2 in a shootout.
Despite the shootout loss, this game was all about Ondrej Pavelec.
He went into the game with a below average save percentage of .905 (28th in the NHL) and a below average goals against average of 3.03 (33rd in the NHL) and yet when he’s been called upon to save his teammates this season, the big guy with the below-average numbers always seems to come up big. Especially at home.
There is something about MTS Centre that makes this guy a better goaltender (although he did shut out the Islanders back on Nov. 3 on Long Island when he made 34 saves in a 3-0 Jets victory). He’s been awful in Detroit, shaky in Ottawa and just dreadful in Philadelphia (in a game the Jets eventually won 9-8). He gave up six in Buffalo, four in Washington and four more in Chicago as the Jets lost three close road games, but when he’s been home, he’s been pretty much unbeatable.
"I like playing in our building," he said the other day. "I love the crowd and it’s fun to play in front of them. The team usually plays much better at home, too. It’s a great place to play."
While the Jets home crowd is becoming a story in itself, the fans’ favorite goalie has been worth the price of admission and on Tuesday night, the Jets didn’t have a hope without him.
It easily could have been 3-0 before the Jets had a chance to catch their breath. If Pavelec doesn’t make two magnificent saves in the first 10 minutes, it’s 3-0, not 1-0. In the second period, Pavelec kept the Jets in the game and in the third he made four spectacular saves and, for all intents and purposes, he saved the hockey game.
In the shootout, he wasn’t so good. He’s never been particularly good in shootouts (his career record is now 4-11), but if the Jets offense could have done anything at all in the final 10 minutes, it might have been a different story. Fact is, if Pavelec (11-11-5 on the season) doesn’t stand on his head, the Islanders win this one in a walk. In the end, he made 31 saves and was the best player on the ice.
Despite the shootout loss, the Jets get a point, they’re 6-1-1 at home in December, 15-13-5 overall and, essentially, tied for ninth in the East, just a point out of eighth. The Islanders are now 5-1-1 in their last seven road games. If not for Pavelec, the Isles are 6-1-0.
"We’ll take the point," said head coach Claude Noel after the game. "I thought we played careless in the first. I thought we had way too many turnovers. We were better in the third, but overall I thought we were sloppy. I thought Pavelec was real good, he played really strong. He got us to the shootout. He really helped us. Thank him for the point."