WINNIPEG - It was only 11 days ago that Ondrej Pavelec was playing the role of back-up goalie, allowing an embarrassing last-minute goal to cost his team a game.
Now Pavelec has the hot hand, and has led the Winnipeg Jets to four straight wins— including a 3-0 shutout of the Washington Capitals on Saturday.
Pavelec made 28 saves in his latest outing— his second shutout of the season, improving his save percentage to .962 since reclaiming his starting job from rookie Michael Hutchinson.
"Any time we had breakdowns, Mr. Pavelec— and we may have to call him mister now— was fantastic," said Jets coach Paul Maurice.
Mark Stuart, Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry scored for the Jets (37-23-12), who extended their lead to four points over Los Angeles in the chase for the final Western Conference wild-card berth.
The Capitals (39-24-10) lost for the first time in four games, but comfortably hold the Eastern Conference's first wild-card spot.
"I thought we had a pretty good first period, and (Pavelec) made some big saves early or it could have gone either way," said Capitals forward Curtis Glencross. "In the second we let off the gas a little bit, but in the third period we came back and their goaltender made a lot of big saves to keep them in the game."
Pavelec made a number of saves that brought the MTS Centre crowd to its feet, and also benefited from three Washington shots that hit iron.
"I think we deserved to win," said Pavelec. "I think we did everything to win the game. They've got some guys that can score goals, so I'm really happy for the team."
Stuart, a stay-at-home defenceman, opened the scoring 11:46 into the first period with his second goal of the season when he pinched in from the blue-line and a Drew Stafford pass from behind the net found its way to his stick.
"We're going to have an investigation on that later," Maurice said, when asked what Stuart was doing so deep in the Washington zone.
"It came off a change and I thought I had a little bit of a step," said Stuart, who has 23 goals in his 558 career games. "Drew made a great play to track the puck and throw it out to me."
The Jets played without three key members of their roster. Leading defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, No. 1 centre Bryan Little, and fourth-leading goal scorer Mathieu Perreault are all nursing injuries.
In their absence, the makeshift line of Scheifele, Stafford and Blake Wheeler has become a consistent scoring threat for Winnipeg.
"That's our game plan, trying to frustrate whoever we're playing against," said Wheeler. "If you do it for 60 minutes, after a certain amount of time they're going to break and give you scoring chances."
Braden Holtby, starting his 16th consecutive game in the Washington net, stopped 21 of 23 shots.
Scheifele made it 2-0 midway through the second period with a high shot that beat Holtby to the glove side after a centring pass from Wheeler.
The Jets have 10 games remaining in their campaign as they attempt to reach the playoffs for the first time in their four seasons in Winnipeg.
Notes: Washington won the previous seven meetings between the clubs, outscoring Winnipeg 31-11. … The Capitals entered the game with the best power play in the NHL, converting on 25.2 per cent of their attempts. … The Jets play back-to-back games in Edmonton and Vancouver on Monday and Tuesday night. … The Capitals are off until Thursday, when they host New Jersey.