Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Battle lost, but war rages on

Loss to Caps singularly discouraging, not cause for despair

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Their Saturday afternoon goose-egg against the Washington Capitals was not a strong endorsement for their case for the playoffs.

The Winnipeg Jets' season, though, will not be decided by one-game snapshots.

In fact, the Jets are deep into what many considered a critical stretch of their schedule, one that had them playing a stretch of nine of 11 games away from the MTS Centre.

To review, when the team entered this most-challenging assignment on Feb. 19, it was 5-8-1.

Good performances on the road in the first five-game away segment, plus an unspectacular but well-managed effort at home Thursday against New Jersey had the enthusiasm percolating again.

Still, after losing 3-0 to the Caps, the Jets are so far 5-2 in this demanding stretch, and now the final act of this block of games is the resumption of action on the road with four more stops.

It begins Tuesday in Sunrise, Fla., with a game against the Florida Panthers, and continues on to Tampa, back to south Florida and then to New Jersey.

(For those who just can't wait to look farther ahead, Winnipeg will be home for six of eight following this week.)

Home or road will not be the determining factor in whether the Jets sink or swim -- that's the message starting to emerge from members of the team in recent days.

"It's more of a case of not anything to do with home or road, just playing good hockey," defenceman Mark Stuart said after Saturday's loss at the MTS Centre. "Over the last four, five, six games... today wasn't the best effort because it wasn't 60 minutes. We've been getting 60-minute efforts pretty consistently over the last little while but today wasn't the case there."

NHL veteran Nik Antropov nodded approvingly, told of Stuart's home-road comment.

"He's 100 per cent right," Antropov said. "But I will say that sometimes on the road, it is more relaxing and we don't have that pressure from the fans.

"Last year, we were doing really good at home and doing bad on the road. Now it seems like it's opposite.

"But we still want to get our fans involved in the game as much as we can, score the first couple of goals or at least the first goal and get them going."

Antropov knows the home vs. road debate is potentially endless, given last year's proficiency on MTS Centre ice and this season's numbers, on the whole, are unremarkable either way.

Which is how you get to be 10-10-1 after 21 games.

"I think that's going to be one of our issues," Antropov said. "We've been playing pretty good in first periods, but (against Washington) something happened and they had the first goal and we didn't get any extra jump.

"But I still don't think it matters where we play, as long as we play right and stick to the game plan. Then we'll be alright."

Antropov was asked if the Jets have spent any time thinking, wondering or worrying about their fans and the team's home-ice performances.

"Oh, I know it's been a long season for the fans, the lockout and all that stuff," he said. "I'm not sure how to put it right but we do want to get them excited, kind of like the other night (against New Jersey). That first goal, eight seconds into it, and they were really into that game. That's what we're trying to accomplish.

"But at the same time, you have to stick to that game plan, do things right. Then you will be alright."

Antropov also said the Jets are fully aware and prepared for the intensity that every game this season presents. In 2013, there isn't a single instance of an Eastern Conference team losing to one from the Western Conference (and vice-versa), causing the standings races to periodically stall.

"We have talked about this lots. Claude (Noel, Jets coach) has talked about it, especially playing against your own division and those games are four points for us or the opposition team," Antropov said. "And every night, East vs. East all the time, (somebody's always getting) two points ... That's what can get you going to the top, going into the top eight. It can also (give us) a lot of confidence."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2013 C3

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