So just how big is Sunday’s game at MTS Centre between the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars?
Well, get this -- to a man, the Jets put away the clichés on Saturday and didn’t even try to pretend that "it’s just another game."
Just listen in:
"It’s a big one," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. "We need to start winning games and when you’re playing a team that occupies the position you want to be in, it definitely carries a little bit more weight. It’s an exciting game and you want to be playing big games this time of year and we’re in that position so it’s going to be a big one."
And then there was this from Jets head coach Paul Maurice, whose job it is to keep everyone on an even keel.
"This is our chance to get back into the fight here. We did something exceptionally special to close the gap... and then stumbled," Maurice said.
"And now we’ve got a chance to keep breathing and get your head close to the surface so you can see all the light coming. It’s a great process for our guys to go through and feel the weight of that and to get up for a hockey game and be excited for it and take on that challenge. I’m looking forward to seeing how they react to it."
Here’s the situation heading into Sunday night: The Jets trail the Dallas Stars by six points for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
Now, even a Winnipeg win over Dallas would still leave the Jets trailing the Stars by four points and still in a very difficult predicament, especially with Dallas holding two games in hand and both the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes also ahead of Winnipeg in the standings and also in pursuit of Dallas.
But a four-point gap behind Dallas with 13 games to play -- and the end of a season-high six-game losing streak -- would at least be reason for renewed hope in Jets nation heading into St. Louis on Monday night, whereas a loss to Dallas and an eight-point deficit would be all but fork-sticking time.
The good news is that if you believe what the Jets were selling this weekend -- that, despite the current losing streak, they’re really not that far off from being the same team that went on a winning tear when Maurice took over behind the bench in January -- then you believe what has gone so wrong, so quickly the past couple weeks could just as quickly start going right again.
"We’re focused on our game and I think for the most part we’re pleased with what’s going on right now," insisted Wheeler. "What’s missing is the result, the two points. And you can argue that’s all that matters this time of year and it pretty much is all that matters. But when things aren’t bouncing the way you want it to, you have to have somewhere to go and the way we’ve been playing our game overall has been pretty good lately.
"I think the last two or three games you could argue we played better than the majority of games that we were rattling off wins. (Friday) night, I don’t remember spending much time in the D-zone at all . There was a lot of good stuff that went on last night and you’re going to lose games like that -- it’s a tough league. That’s the way it goes.
"It’s not time to reinvent the wheel by any means. I think we’re happy with the majority of things that are going on right now."