WASHINGTON — The Jets have played many games with consequences since their return to Winnipeg.
It goes to a new level tonight when they meet the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center (6 p.m. CT, TSNJets, TSN1290).
Sparked by their persistence in a 2-1 win Monday night in Buffalo, the Jets have a chance to take over the Southeast Division lead tonight.
Washington is at 52 points in 45 games; the Jets have 51 in 46 games.
An outright Washington win would clinch the division title and the Eastern Conference’s third seed for the Caps.
That wouldn’t eliminate the Jets, who trail the Rangers and Ottawa by a single point, but would bring in the need for a few miracles later in the week plus a win over Montreal in their season-finale on Thursday at home.
The team held an optional skate this morning at Verizon Center. Most regulars took the morning off, but goalie Ondrej Pavelec was on the ice.
"To have a morning skate, like usual before the game," Pavelec said this morning, even though it’s a back-to-back situation for the Jets. "I’ve done that a few times. We had a day off before the games. I didn’t want to hang out at the hotel all day long.
"I just like to go on the ice. Now I’ll have a good nap."
Jets right-winger Chris Thorburn also participated this morning.
"Coming off a big win yesterday... it’s a matter of us going back to the hotel, getting our mindset right and coming back for the game tonight against Washington and you know the implication of this game," Thorburn said. "We’ll be ready."
The rugged forward said that without career playoff experience, "This is probably one of the biggest games of my career."
Pavelec, who will start his 12th straight game tonight, didn’t want to go there.
"I wouldn’t say the biggest game," Pavelec said. "Every game is big. If we lose two games a month ago, we wouldn’t be here. So every game is huge.
"Last night was a huge game as well. It’s going to feel the same.
"I don’t think the last few years we’ve been in this situation. We really enjoy it."
He said he’s up for the challenge against the hot Capitals.
"We’ll play against a really good team," he said. "We’ve got to be ready for them.
In the season series between the Jets and Caps, it’s been visitors all the way.
Winnipeg dominated in an early-season win here in Washington, 4-2, while the Caps won all three outings at the MTS Centre, including back-to-back one-sided games in late March that sparked their climb up the standings.
The Caps have won nine of the last 10, while the Jets are 6-0-1 in their last seven.
Winnipeg will be without several regulars due to injury —defencemen Toby Enstrom and Zach Bogosian and forwards Olli Jokinen, Jim Slater and now Kyle Wellwood. Wellwood blocked a shot early in Monday’s second period and is out long-term with a hand injury, the team said.
Nik Antropov skated this morning and could come into the lineup to fill Wellwood’s spot. Antropov has been out with an injury since April 2.
Noel also hinted Monday that he could resort to seven defencemen tonight, if needed.