The calendar is about to turn and the entire National Hockey League, including the Winnipeg Jets, are about to embark on their own version of March Madness -- a month-long sprint toward playoff spots and the Stanley Cup tournament.
And for the Jets, coming off a flat performance in Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, the margin for error is getting thinner and thinner.
Heading into action tonight, the Jets remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-27-8 record. They next play Thursday in a critical Southeast Division match-up with the Florida Panthers at MTS Centre as part of a stretch that will see them play 17 games in 38 days to end the regular season.
"We have 17 playoff games," said head coach Claude Noel while some of his charges took part in an optional skate. "We have to get as many wins as we can. That game against Florida, everything’s gotta be poured into that game. We can leave nothing on the table in that game. In an ideal world, we’d be able to pick up two clean points. That would really be helping ourselves. And then we move onto the next. And then we’ll move onto the next task when we get there.
"We do what we have to do, and they are going to do what they have to do, and the cards will fall where they do."
The Jets trail the Panthers, 29-20-12 by two points in the Southeast although Florida does have four games in hand. Florida, Toronto, Washington and Ottawa -- all teams the Jets are jockeying with for playoff positions – are in action Tuesday night.
Noel, for one, is ecstatic to see his team get a bit of a break on the schedule this week. After the Florida game the Jets have three days before the homestand wraps up against Buffalo and then two days before a road trip that will see them in Vancouver and Calgary on successive nights.
"It’s better for everybody," Noel said. "It allows us to catch our breath for a second. It’s like we’ve been playing, we recover, we play, we recover. It’s nice not having to play tomorrow. Through this month we’ve got some pockets here where we catch up. We catch our breath a bit and teams are catching up to us in games."
New defenceman Grant Clitsome was to arrive from Columbus on Tuesday and will practise with the team on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Zach Bogosian (upper body) is expected to be ready for the game Thursday against the Panthers.