Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Playoffs or no, faith in future is warranted

Jets have established sound building blocks

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The immediate days ahead will yield joy or bitter disappointment in Jets Nation. When the goal is qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it's so close you can just taste that atmosphere that goes along with a post-season beverage, these are the extreme emotions in play.

It's going to be one or the other, that much is certain.

On either side of the coin, there should be few recriminations whenever the off-season begins.

These Jets were a bubble team all the way, based on the lack of change and multiple levels of change elsewhere in the conference.

Lower-than-bubble finishes were predicted in many corners, but that's not to suggest there should be satisfaction for almost making the playoffs. Again.

The Jets of Season 1 scrapped and scraped and clawed until they fell exhausted -- spent, really -- three games from the finish line. It was an uphill race every single night after a January of virtually jogging on the spot.

Two months of getting it back together for a final push were a good learning experience; there were many good responses when it mattered and under pressure.

This team seems closer than the last, though there's a similar identifiable stall -- that cursed five-game losing streak -- that has made the nightly alarm bells ring.

Again, there's been a commendable response. A 5-0-1 homestand just finished is hard to argue with, though the two points that got out of the MTS Centre on Saturday, to the Islanders, figure to be hurtful in many ways.

Ever since those division-leading Washington Capitals visited in late March, the Jets have dealt with their share of adversity. At times poorly, lately much better. Not perfectly, but more organized, relying on more game and less hope.

"Just a great effort," veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey said of Saturday's trouble that earned just the one point. "They made some plays and gave us some problems, no doubt about that, but our guys kept going, kept going. I've seen a lot of guys who are playing their you-known-what off all the way to the end."

Today provides the newest beginning, the newest opportunity.

Games tonight and Tuesday in Washington provide a chance to be in a playoff spot by Wednesday morning.

Late in the season, the Jets have been very good at focusing on these little pictures and it had already started with the post-game conversations Saturday.

"We've been in a tough position for a long time now and we've been playing all right," centre Bryan Little said. "There are teams that we feel we have a chance to get some wins against. I'm sure they're going to be playing for pride but we're going to be playing for our lives."

Little suggested momentum has been maintained.

"It's not like we're eliminated. We all know these games are going to be huge and we might need some teams to lose, but I think everything's still positive. We could have got zero points but we got one. It feels like we lost but we're going to be pretty good on the road."

Captain Andrew Ladd is not looking past the Sabres.

"We'd rather try to stay positive in here and focus on Buffalo now," Ladd said. "It's easy to sit there and dwell on what we could have done and we'll look at mistakes and what we could have done better and we don't have time to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves and get on each other so we'll move on and stick together."

Their "together" has no doubt had its flaws but has been good enough to get to this point. Pass or fail this week, it's enough of a building block to warrant some faith.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2013 C1

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