How difficult is it to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs?
The Winnipeg Jets are finding out, even if the 75th day of the season is not the day that matters most.
An invitation to move over the line and up into one of the top eight places in the Eastern Conference was in play for the Jets all of Tuesday night but they simply could not push hard enough to make the jump, eventually falling 3-2 in a shootout to the New York Islanders before 15,004 fans at the MTS Centre.
The point doesn’t hurt the Jets, bumping them to 35 points and keeping them right where they started the night, in a tie for ninth place and oh, so close to a spot.
"It could have gone a different way again," said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, clearly a front-and-centre player for his team once again. "We’ll see at the end of the season. The point is important."
In the conference, Ottawa and Toronto are tantalizingly close, holding down the last two spots this morning with 36 points.
Winnipeg has been behind the line every day of the season so far, in large part due to a poor start of 0-3-0 and 5-9-3.
"It was a point on a night where we could have used two," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "We’ll take the point. I thought we played careless in the first, turned the puck over. I thought we weren’t good in the D zone. I thought we were way better in the third.
"We played with a lot more energy and purpose. And I thought Pavelec was real good, he played real strong. He really helped us to at least get to a shootout. We can thank him for the point."
In the first extra-game of the season at the MTS Centre, the Jets never led. That included the shootout, when P.A. Parenteau and Frans Nielsen scored for the Isles on their first two shots, ending it quickly.
New York moved to 28 points with its second straight road win.
"There’s no easy games," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, whose 11th goal of the season brought the Jets into the 2-2 tie mid-way through the second period. "I don’t care where the team is in the standings. Every team is a threat. They worked hard and they have skill up front and they can hurt you. We were too loose defensively and we made it hard on Pav.
"It’s better to have one than none but you want the two points in games like this. You want to be better than we were tonight."
And therein lies the debate over Tuesday’s outcome.
The Jets have wanted to be better since their poor start, and they have been on many nights in the last month.
But the issue is no longer about turning the corner, but what they will do now that they have done so.
On many nights, the theme seems to be relying on Pavelec.
"It’s not ever done by design," Noel said after Winnipeg’s extra-time record fell to 1-5 this season. The Isles are 2-6. " I don’t think we’re the only team that does that. That’s what goaltending brings for you.
"Right now when I look at our team play, we don’t have the chemistry we had before.
"That’s maybe because new people but it’s not like it was before, clicking-wise. Whether we’re playing thinking we can make more plays ... those are some of the mixed messages we’re sending ourselves and it puts a lot of pressure on our goaltending."
The Jets were without centre Bryan Little (foot) on Tuesday, moving youngster Alex Burmistrov into his spot with Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler.
And Tuesday marked the introduction of Antti Miettinen to the Jets lineup, causing another combination shift that put him with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass.
At 15-13-5, the Jets have now alternated wins and losses in their last six outings. They are 6-3-1 since their stretch of 13 of 15 at home began on Nov. 29 and the week gets tougher as as it moves on to Thursday and Friday home games against Montreal and Pittsburgh.
NOTE: With zero power plays on Tuesday night, that makes two games in a row this season against the Islanders in which Winnipeg hasn’t had a single man advantage. The Islanders went zero for two on Tuesday.