Updated at: 04/22/2013 10:35 PM
By JOHN WAWROW
(AP) BUFFALO, N.Y. - Antti Miettinen scored with 7:36 left to keep the surging Winnipeg Jets in the playoff race with a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 24 shots, including a huge glove save on Thomas Vanek with 5:45 left to preserve the victory. Winnipeg (24-19-3) improved 6-0-1 in its past seven and moved within a point of the idle New York Rangers, who hold the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot in the final week of the season.
Just as important, the Jets also crept to within a point of Southeast Division-leading Washington. That sets up a critical showdown on Tuesday, when Winnipeg travels to play the Capitals.
Miettinen’s goal came on what began as an innocent play, with the Jets’ James Wright carrying the puck up the left wing against four Buffalo defenders. Gaining the Sabres’ zone, he dropped a pass to Miettinen, who snapped a shot from the top of the right circle.
With Evander Kane cutting across in front to provide a screen, the puck sneaked in under goalie Jhonas Enroth’s left arm and had enough to dribble in behind him.
Aaron Gagnon also scored for Winnipeg, which swept the three-game season series and improved to 6-0-1 in its last seven meetings against the Sabres.
Vanek scored the lone goal for Buffalo (19-21-6), which was knocked out of playoff contention with an 8-4 loss to the Rangers on Friday.
Winnipeg’s seven-game point streak is its longest since going 6-0-1 from Nov. 22-Dec. 5, 2006, when the franchise was still the Atlanta Thrashers. In their second season in Winnipeg, the Jets are attempting to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and only the second time in the team’s 13-year history.
Enroth stopped 37 shots in bouncing back after both he and Ryan Miller allowed four goals apiece to the Rangers. And it was an outing in which Miller was mocked by the crowd and then pulled early into the second period.
With Miller on the bench Monday, Enroth drew cheers after he made several acrobatic saves in preventing a blowout. He stopped 15 shots in the first period _ including Kane’s penalty shot. He then made 13 saves in the second, having no chance on Gagnon’s opening goal 7:32 into the period.
Derek Meech set up the goal, feeding a pass to the top of the crease, where Gagnon was all alone and redirected it over Enroth’s left shoulder.
Otherwise, Enroth sparkled. Two minutes before the goal, during a scramble in front, he managed to jump back position and get his right pad and stick out to turn aside Grant Clitsome’s shot from the high slot.
Then there were Enroth’s series of saves with under 5 minutes left in the second period.
Dustin Byfuglien’s one-timer from the left circle caromed off the far post, causing a scramble in front. Enroth kicked away Gagnon’s shot from in close and then, with his back to the play, Enroth reached out blindly with his right arm to stop Andrew Ladd’s shot from going into the open net.
Enroth was also sharp in stopping Kane’s penalty shot 14:59 in. He got just enough of his glove on Kane’s shot to have the puck deflect off the crossbar and over the net.
Kane was awarded the penalty shot _ the first of his career _ when he broke up the middle, got a step on Andrej Sekera before being tripped up from behind by the Sabres defenseman. Kane has scored once on five penalty-shot attempts, his previous one stopped by Miller on March 19, 2011.
Pavelec had a much easier time, facing only 14 shots through 40 minutes. And he had no chance on Vanek’s power-play goal 11:57 into the second period. Vanek found a seam in the slot, where he redirected in Tyler Ennis’ pass from the right circle.
Vanek’s goal was the 248th of his career, good for sixth on the franchise list, one ahead of Mike Foligno and four behind Craig Ramsay.
The Jets are suddenly banged up after losing center Olli Jokinen (ankle) and defenseman Zach Bogosian (concussion) in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday. Winnipeg’s already playing without center Nik Antropov, who’s missed eight games with a lower body injury, and defenseman Toby Enstrom (mid body).
And the Jets lost forward Kyle Wellwood, who did not return for the third period. He continued playing in the second period after taking a shot from Vanek off his right hand.
NOTES: Teams have converted only eight of 33 penalty-shot attempts this season. ... The Jets have converted on just eight of 28 penalty shots and have missed on seven straight. Kane scored the franchise’s last penalty shot, beating Washington’s Michal Neuvirth on Oct. 8, 2010, when the Jets were still the Thrashers. ... Buffalo left for Pittsburgh on Tuesday after their game, originally scheduled last Saturday, was postponed as a result of the Boston Marathon bombings to allow the Penguins to squeeze in their game at Boston. ... Sabres rookie C Mikhail Grigorenko played his first NHL game in a month after being recalled from QMJHL Quebec last week. He replaced RW Patrick Kaleta, who hurt his left hand blocking a shot in an 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers on Friday.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)