Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31) makes a glove save against the Buffalo Sabres\' during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan
WINNIPEG - Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec says the more he plays, the more he likes it.
He must like it a lot then, as one of the hardest working netminders in the NHL for team struggling to make the playoffs.
Only Nashville's Pekka Rinne has spent more time on the ice than Pavelec, and only Buffalo's Ryan Miller has faced more shots than Pavelec's 1,042 so far this season.
Pavelec's 944 saves this season trail only Miller. He has already passed the 6,000 mark in total saves, not bad for a 25-year-old.
He was the Atlanta Thrashers second-round pick in the 2005 NHL draft (41st overall).
"You want to play," insists the Czech native, who feels the whole team has contributed to the recent back-to-back wins that have brought the Jets back into contention.
That may certainly be true, with Winnipeg's top forwards again finding the net again, but the kind of saves Pavelec has made every night are what have kept the Jets in the hunt.
Team captain Andrew Ladd has said over and over that Pavelec has been their best player lately as the Jets fight for their playoff lives.
Right now it's a fight they seem to have a chance of winning, a far cry from just a few days ago when they were closing out a five-game losing streak.
The whole team agrees on Pavelec's importance. But is he playing too much?
Coach Claude Noel was talking Wednesday about the strain put on players by the shortened season.
"It is like a 48-game playoff," he said.
"That sounds silly because it's too many games but that's exactly what it's like. It's really taxing.
"I see it all the time in there, just the wear and tear. In a normal year you don't see it like this."
But when it come's to Pavelec, Noel isn't worried.
"It's funny, it's a good question, it doesn't concern me too much with him because he's managed it well," says Noel.
"The thing with him, I think he's enjoying this. He views it as a challenge."
Noel says goalie coach Wade Flaherty has been helping him and it also doesn't hurt that Pavelec is a strong, young athlete.
"If he was older as an athlete, I think it would be tougher," Noel said.
Pavelec even showed up for an optional practice Wednesday after Winnipeg's latest 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, when the appreciative crowd was chanting his name after one particularly brilliant series of saves.
And he only laughed when asked if he minded that his shutout was spoiled Tuesday night by a fluke shot that bounced off Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler into the net.
"All that matters is the win," he said.
Noel says it's hard to question success and that is what they get with Pavelec between the posts.
"He has logged a lot of time but his play has been really good. It's hard to argue with the way he's played. He's managed it well."
As for Pavelec?
"This is fun," he says.