They are gaining -- as is the club in the rear-view mirror – and so the Winnipeg Jets have one goal in mind as they head into Nashville for a Saturday matinee against the Predators:
Keep that foot pressed firmly on the gas pedal.
The Jets wrapped up practice Friday morning at MTS Centre with the same line combinations and defensive pairings that edged the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout Thursday night – their first game after the Olympic break and the first in what will be an all-out five-team sprint to a coveted playoff spot.
And Saturday’s match-up, like the one against the Coyotes, comes against one of the teams in the chase. Nashville, at 26-24-10, is just two points behind the Jets with a game in hand.
Winnipeg, at 29-26-6, is one point back of both Phoenix and Vancouver and two back of Dallas, which holds down the final wildcard spot in the conference. The Jets are 1-2-1 against Nashville this season, including a 4-3 loss on Jan. 28th – one of only three in regulation they have lost under Maurice.
"They’ve played that same hard game for years," said Jets’ coach Paul Maurice when asked for a scouting report on the Predators. "They won’t give you any easy ice to play on. I thought we were a little fatigued when we played them at home here. It was five (games) in eight (days) and I thought we showed it a little bit. That being said, it was a real tight game to the end."
The Preds, who were also playing their first post-Olympic break game Thursday night, shook off a 2-0 deficit with three consecutive power-play goals to knock off Tampa. They are 5-2-3 in their last 10 and hope to soon have superstar netminder Pekka Rinne back in the lineup. He is beginning a conditioning assignment in the AHL this weekend after being out since Oct. 22nd with a hip injury.
"I think we’re both hoping we’ve got that first game out of our system and off we go," said Maurice. "All of our games, everything you saw last night, versions of it are going to happen in the last 21. It’s all going to be like that."
After returning home from Nashville the Jets will play eight of their next 10 at home – a critical stretch that could determine their playoff fate.
"This is fun for everybody," added Ondrej Pavelec. "It’s the most important time of the year. A lot of teams are battling for a playoff spot. Everybody likes this, the fans, the players, coaches... everybody. It’s going to be fun."