They’ve bopped up and down the standings – from 10th to third to eighth to ninth -- over the last little while. And so Claude Noel’s daily message to his Winnipeg Jets becomes that much more important these days:
Focus on the here and now. Focus, specifically, on the Florida Panthers who are here Thursday night in the seventh of an eight-game homestand.
That’s the best method to deal with the daily meat grinder that is the race to the playoffs and the NHL’s version of March madness .
"The only way that we do it internally is try to keep the focus singular and play the game and win the game that’s in front of us," Noel said Wednesday after Jets’ practice. "You can see that Florida has won three straight, they have games in hand and they’ve jumped ahead and taken over the top spot in the division. We were there for awhile and had more games played, but that’s just the way it is. The way I do it is just keep the focus on the task at hand.
"As simple as that sounds, that’s how I handle it. Get the external stuff out of there and just try to win the games, as many as we can."
The Jets, 30-27-8, are third in the Southeast Division – four back of the Panthers and one behind the Washington Capitals – and ninth in the Eastern Conference. The game against the Panthers is the second-last against their division rivals this season.
"(Florida) has played well against us," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "They’ve got some guys up front that can put the puck in the net and (Kris) Versteeg has done some damage… I don’t know if he playing tomorrow (he’s not)… maybe that’s a good omen.
"This is such a big game for us with them being ahead and us being outside of the playoff picture now. It’s something we feel that with them coming into our building we have to show up and play our best game."
Noel did confirm Wednesday that defenceman Zach Bogosian would return to the lineup. Newcomer Grant Clitsome, scooped off waivers by the Jets earlier this week, will be a game-time decision.