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Jets sure they can still make playoffs, starting tonight in Denver

Ain't no mountain high enough

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The Jets defence has slipped up recently, as the club has surrendered eight goals in the past two games. The Ottawa Senators potted five on Saturday at the MTS Centre.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Jets defence has slipped up recently, as the club has surrendered eight goals in the past two games. The Ottawa Senators potted five on Saturday at the MTS Centre. Photo Store

He has directed a fairly steady climb over a period of seven weeks, bringing the Winnipeg Jets from 10 points (53-43) out of the Western Conference playoff group to even (66-66) as of last weekend.

Then in a space of just five days, half of that work went out the window, as the Jets enter tonight's game in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche five points (72-67) back of the eighth-place Dallas Stars.

Does that make Jets head coach Paul Maurice want to scream?

"It's a good theory," Maurice mused on Sunday as the team packed up and headed off for Denver. "And while that's going on, you also know if you put that (five-day) block anywhere, you might be 10 out. That's the problem chasing, at times, more than one team.

"You start with Van (Vancouver) on the list and they hit a wall... and then Dallas gets on a roll.

'We're still in it. There's just not enough time to dwell on the past right now'

-- Jets defenceman Mark Stuart, at practice Sunday

"And Minny gets on a roll. And that's why, at times, it's difficult to make up ground. But let's take that theory and project it forward. We know we can make up 12 points in a short period of time."

Which is what the Jets' focus will be tonight as they try to end a sputter that has seen them collect just one overtime point from their last three outings.

"You have to get on a roll and win hockey games and I'm aware of who we're playing on the schedule," the coach said. "There are times late in the year when that can be a benefit, playing the very best. At times when they know they're going to the playoffs and heading in, sometimes that can be a positive (because they might not be playing with the usual intensity).

"You've seen it, that teams completely out of it or in the dogfight, are sometimes the more physical, grinding games."

Jets defenceman Mark Stuart sees many things being possible under Maurice. The team's record is 11-5-2 in that time.

'You have to get on a roll and win hockey games and I'm aware of who we're playing on the schedule'

-- Jets coach Paul Maurice

"I think we look at it as an opportunity to gain those points back," Stuart said. "If you're concentrating on where you're at and what you've given up in a few days, you're going to drive yourself crazy.

"We need to concentrate on Colorado and grab the two points and go from there. We're still in it. There's just not enough time to dwell on the past right now. There are too many games in a short period of time and we're running out of time.

"We need to just concentrate on grabbing points."

Tonight won't specifically be about grabbing, but more impeding the swift and skilled Avalanche who, at 87 points, are only five off the lead of the wildly difficult Central Division.

"The rush has become a bit of an issue for us now," Maurice pointed out Sunday. "They're a very good transition team and they have great straight-line speed and they get it to the net with some high skill.

"(Our job is) making sure we can control that rush."

The coach also voiced some concern about the one element in particular that has caused his team to spin its tires in the last week -- defence.

"I'm concerned that the foundation we started from, the good defensive game and the solid defensive game, starts to disappear," he said. "You've given up eight (goals) in the last two games. This is human nature and this is the part of the growth process, that you build one part but don't have that shrink when you go over to build something else. You want to keep that foundation there, and add to it.

"That's a challenge for us."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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