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Jets face critical tests in games against Islanders, Sabres, Capitals

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They’ve been keeping pace with those in front of them. Now the Winnipeg Jets get a real chance to gain some ground.

The push for an NHL playoff spot is in the home stretch now, what with the Jets having just four regular-season games remaining. And now comes the critical tests: Winnipeg plays host to the New York Islanders Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.; TSNJets/TSN 1290) in the final contest of a six-game homestand and then heads on the road early next week for contests in Buffalo and Washington.

The Jets trail the Caps by two points in the battle for top spot in the Southeast Division and are three back of the seventh-place Isles in the race for one of eight playoff positions. The New York Rangers and Jets are both tied with 48 points, although the Blueshirts have played one less game.

"(The Islanders) are a team that’s playing well now," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "The last time (a 5-2 loss on Long Island on April 2nd) we saw what they can do to you. They’ve got a lot of speed, a lot of skill and they do the right things and play the right way. They don’t give you much the other way. We’ll have to be ready right from the get-go. Everyone knows the importance of the game and we’ve got to bring our best."

The Jets have reeled off five straight wins, a feat not matched by the franchise since the Atlanta Thrashers won six straight in November of 2010. The Islanders are coming off a 5-3 win over Toronto on Thursday and are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games.

"It’s a game we’ve been waiting for," said Bryan Little. "We’re winning games, we’re watching the scores and the teams we are chasing are winning games, too. It’s finally nice to play a team that we’re chasing."

Of note from Friday:

  • The Jets new defensive pairings, which were changed late in Thursday’s OT win over Carolina, remained intact at Friday’s practice. The new duos feature Dustin Byfuglien with Ron Hainsey and Zach Bogosian with Grant Clitsome while Paul Postma and Mark Stuart were still together. Here’s Claude Noel explaining the shuffle:

"When you coach you do things to help you win. I juggle lines, I juggle people, I take some in, some out. You do things for the only reason there is: to help you win. Whatever that means.

"It’s the same thing with my philosophy on whether you keep the lineup the same because you’re winning. Not really. People might think that, but if I feel that we would win against the Islanders with three new players and I have three players I think would help us win I’ll put them in. It’s the same thing. You do the same things for the same results. You’re looking to try and get the same results. How you get there doesn’t matter. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t."

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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Updated on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 3:12 PM CDT: Adds videos.

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