Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Are the Jets a playoff team?

Road woes must end for post-season shot

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This time last year the Winnipeg Jets were known as the Atlanta Thrashers and they were already toast.

They were done in more ways than one, as the franchise was soon to be sold and moved to Winnipeg. But for the players, it was still all about hockey and their lack of playoff-team status.

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"We were already done by this time," said Chris Thorburn. "This is so much better. You still come to the rink and play every night, but it's not the same as being involved at this emotional level. Not even close. Being in Winnipeg makes it even better. This is unreal. I try to tell my friends about it, but then I just tell them they have to come here to experience it."

Qualifying

With just over a month left on the schedule the Jets are still relevant, and that's a major step for this group of players. Actually qualifying for the post-season, however, will require another big leap.

With a record of 31-27-8, the Jets have been mostly average this season but for two lengthy home stretches, one in December and the one they're on right now, when they have raised their bar.

Average will not do if the Jets are to complete this mission. When this homestand ends (Monday against the Buffalo Sabres) and they hit the road again next week, they must take their A game with them.

With 16 games left in the season, seven at home and nine on the road, the Jets likely need to win 11 more times and that means a minimum of four away from the MTS Centre.

For a team that has won just 11 times on the road all season, asking them to win four of nine is a lot. Every loss at home will add to the total of road wins needed.

This isn't going to be easy and it will require the Jets to break through on a number of fronts.

Unfair as it may seem, a lot of this will ride on the shoulders of goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

Near perfect

He's been Winnipeg's best player to this point in the season, but he must be even better. Near perfect, in fact, is the challenge for Pavelec.

The Jets have proven porous on the road and coach Claude Noel will need to ride his No. 1 goalie in hopes he can stabilize his teammates. Pavelec will need to steal a game or two for the Jets to keep playing beyond the regular season.

The Jets have played at a .530 winning percentage to this point. They'll need to go at a .687 clip the rest of the way to qualify. Hard, but not impossible.

Are the Jets a playoff team? They have a pretty good idea of what it will take. Now they must do it.

The best part? We get to watch.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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