BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)Kyle Okposo enjoyed his first two-goal game in 23 months, and the Buffalo Sabres continued their late-season playoff push with a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.
Okposo scored the go-ahead goal 7:37 into the third period and the Sabres won their fifth in six games. Rookie Jonas Johansson stopped 25 shots to earn his first victory in three NHL starts.
The Sabres’ recent surge has moved them into a tie for fifth with Montreal in the Atlantic Division standings with 66 points each, and six back of third-place Toronto.
Captain Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg, which stood to lose ground in a tightly contested race for the Western Conference’s final two playoff spots. Connor Hellybuyck finished with 23 saves to drop to 5-4-1 in his past 10 games.
The Jets began the day at eighth in the conference with 69 points, a point ahead of Nashville and Calgary, which was playing at Detroit later Sunday.
Okposo’s go-ahead goal followed a fortunate bounce. Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour’s pass from his own blue line struck teammate Zemgus Girgensons’ skate and then caromed off the skate of Winnipeg’s Nathan Beaulieu at the Jets blue line.
The puck caromed directly to Okposo, who broke in up the right side and lifted a shot over Hellebuyck’s shoulder protecting the near post.
Okposo provided Buffalo some much-needed secondary scoring while captain Jack Eichel was held without a point for just the fifth time in 43 games.
Both teams were playing on consecutive days, with Buffalo coming off a 5-2 win at Pittsburgh. Winnipeg lost 4-2 at Philadelphia.
The teams traded goals in the first period, with Winnipeg allowing the first goal for the eighth consecutive game.
Henri Jokiharju’s shot from the right point glanced off the skate of Winnipeg defenseman Anthony Bitetto in front, and then off the back of the skate of Girgensons. The puck then trickled to the top of the crease, where Okposo swept it in 9:58 into the game.
The Jets responded 7 1/2 minutes later when defenseman Neal Poink kept the puck in at the right point and fed Mark Scheifele in the slot. Scheifele passed it off to left circle to Jansen Harkins, who set up Wheeler for a tap-in goal.
Johansson was sharp in keeping the game tied in the second period.
Five minutes in, he kicked out his right pad to stop Harkins set up alone in the slot. Some three minutes later, Johansson got his glove arm out just in time to stop Nikolaj Ehlers’ one-timer from the slot.
NOTES: Winnipeg-born C Cody Eakin made his Jets debut two days after ninth-year player was acquired in a trade with Vegas. . Jets D Josh Morrissey was a last-minute scratch with the team announcing the assistant captain has an upper-body injury. . Sabres D Henri Jokiharju appeared in his 100th career game. . Jets coach Paul Maurice praised Sabres first-year coach Ralph Krueger by saying, ”I’ve stolen a lot more from him than he’s stolen from me.” Maurice was an assistant and Krueger a consultant on Canada’s 2014 Olympic gold-medal-winning team, and Maurice was Krueger’s assistant on the Team Europe, which finished second in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Krueger complimented Maurice by saying, ”I wouldn’t be here in the national Hockey Hockey League if it wasn’t for my friendship with Paul.” Krueger returned to the NHL last spring after spending five years overseeing Southampton of the English Premier League.
Jets: At Washington on Tuesday night.
Sabres: Open a four-game trip at Colorado on Wednesday night.
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