No one is ready to declare it time to print playoff tickets just yet, but the Winnipeg Jets can now officially consider themselves part of the Stanley-Cup tournament discussion again.
The Jets hammered the Colorado Avalanche 5-1 in front of a rockin’ full house at MTS Centre tonight and the result pushes them into a tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and within one point of the Florida Panthers for top spot in the Southeast Division.
Winnipeg is now 29-26-6 after its third straight win, good for 64 points --- a feat they have not accomplished since a stretch dating back to Dec. 27-31 --- while the Leafs are 29-24-6, also at 64, and the Panthers, who lost to Anaheim today, are 27-20-11 and remain at 65 points. The Jets did leap over the Washington Capitals, who were idle and have 63 points courtesy a 29-24-5 record.
"We’re right on the bubble here of making the playoffs," said Blake Wheeler, who had four assists in the offensive outburst to tie a career high of 46 points. "And not only for this being a first-year thing for this city but for this organization to be right in the mix with 20 games left is a huge stepping stone. I’ve had experience with these playoff runs and having to battle to the very end to make the playoffs and I’m telling ya, if you end up getting into the tournament… anything can happen. That’s the goal right now. We’re trucking along here and if we can do good on this homestand it’s huge for our team."
Once again, the Jets got significant contributions from their Top 6 forwards and other key contributors like goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and the defensive corps.
Wheeler had the four assists, but his linemates were also productive as Bryan Little scored twice for the second time in as many games and Andrew Ladd chipped in with a goal and a helper. The Wheeler-Little-Ladd trio, all totaled, combined for three goals and eight points.
The second line was also busy as Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood both scored and Alex Burmistrov added an assist as the Jets’ Top 6 racked up 13 points. Dustin Byfuglien also had two assists while Pavelec – who faced 20 shots in the second period – was steady.
The other significant development was the Jet power-play – so awful of late and sickly in the first period – that came to life with two goals on five chances.
The key now to continue this run, especially with six in a row still to come on this homestand?
"Just not getting complacent and feeling satisfied with where we’re at and keeping pushing," said captain Andrew Ladd. "There’s still little things we can get better at, that’s the biggest thing. We’ll come to work tomorrow, have a good practice and get ready for our next one."
In fact, the vibe in the Jet locker room afterward was somewhat dulled as a handful of players – even after the win – spoke of the let-down in the second period and tightening up their game in the future.
"In the second I thought they out-played us a lot and out-worked us and we weren’t happy with that," said Little. "We had a lot better third period and a lot better effort. We’ve got to keep getting better. I think we can play better than we did tonight, especially when we had a lead. We’ve got to take advantage of playing at home because we find another level here and feed off the energy."
Added Wheeler: "We need to be better than that. We were fortunate, we got some good bounces, they didn’t get some good bounces and Pavo (Pavelec) bailed us out. It’s two points, we’re going to be happy with that and we’re scoring some goals and that’s a good thing, but when we get more of these tight games we have to be a little bit better than in the areas where we’re turning pucks over and giving chances up."
The Jets continue their homestand Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers and fans should take note of the 6 p.m. puck drop.