ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Winnipeg Jets gave their playoff push a big boost with a disciplined, patient performance that turned into a vital victory at Minnesota.
They also prevented the Wild from clinching a wild-card spot in the process.
"We played a really smart hockey game," Jets coach Paul Maurice said, "and stayed out of the scrums."
The Wild stayed stuck on 96 points after their first loss by more than one goal in 34 games since Jan. 19. They must finish the regular season on the road, where they've won 10 straight games to set a franchise record, with visits to Central Division rivals Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis.
"We still control where we finish, so I think we'll all take that," Wild left wing Zach Parise said.
The Jets, who reached 94 points, play at St. Louis on Tuesday and Colorado on Thursday before returning home to wrap up the regular season against Calgary. That contest has the potential to become a play-in game.
The Jets kept the pressure on not only the Wild but the Pacific Division teams that haven't secured one of the three playoff berths on the other side of the rugged Western Conference. With Minnesota and Winnipeg plus Vancouver, Calgary and Los Angeles all scrapping for four available spots, the final five days on the schedule set up to be an intense prelude to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This game was the perfect example. Wild right wing Chris Stewart was called for roughing in the opening minutes after a tangle with Jets defenseman Mark Stuart, and Wheeler scored on the ensuing power play with a shot that bounced off Wild defenseman Marco Scandella's skate. The Wild and their fans roared their disgust that Stuart wasn't penalized, too, but the Jets kept their cool.
"We don't back down from much. There's something to be said for keeping your composure this time of year," Wheeler said. "If you have to take a punch early in the game like Stu-ee did to get a power-play goal, those are the things that factor into wins."
Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 shots for the Wild, whose losing streak stretched to three games for the first time since Dubnyk was acquired in the season-saving trade with Arizona on Jan. 14. Coach Mike Yeo said he sensed some "tension" in his team, with the desire to clinch at home so strong.
"I could tell that we were ramped up, right from the start. You need to play the game with emotion, but you have to make sure that you're controlling it, too," Yeo said.
The Wild outshot the Jets 23-18 after the first intermission and had plenty of prime scoring opportunities, including Thomas Vanek's slap shot that pinged off the post in the second period. But Stafford gave the Jets a cushion with his rebound attempt that eluded Dubnyk a few minutes later.
"Sometimes I think this team's better in a must-win situation," Vanek said. "Maybe it's good for us to get back on the road."
One of several key players who joined the Jets after in-season trades, Stafford has eight goals and 10 assists in 23 games since the big deal with Buffalo. The Jets have won eight of their last 11 games. Pavelec, who earned his third shutout of the season, has all eight of those victories in 10 starts.
"It starts with Pav in net making some unbelievable saves," Stafford said. "There seemed to be a couple times we were circling the wagons in our own end. On special teams he was able to stop the play, kill the play, and we were able to catch our breath, get a little bit of that momentum back."
The Wild are 34-6-4 when scoring first, but in losing these last three their opponent has gotten the first goal each time.Ben Chiarot replaced Toby Enstrom on the blue line for the Jets, who were also missing Dustin Byfuglien to his suspension. Enstrom was out with an upper body injury he suffered in the last game. Chiarot missed the last 17 games with an upper body injury. ... The Wild fell to 26-8-3 since the Dubnyk trade.