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Beware the slides of March

It was this nasty month that last year cost Jets dearly

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The warning signs are everywhere for the Winnipeg Jets, from what is unfolding elsewhere in the NHL to their own history from a year ago.

And so the mantra was being chanted by everyone in Jets colours Friday as they prepared to head out on a two-games-in-two-days jaunt into Ontario for games in Toronto today and Ottawa Sunday.

And it goes, essentially, like this:

Beware the slides of March.

Yes, even though the Jets are on a dandy run -- 9-3-1 in their last 13 -- the message before their departure was to fixate on the here and now, not what is in the rear-view mirror or too far ahead. And the reasoning is simple: As much as their recent play has launched them into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, a bad stretch can just as easily drop them out of the discussion.

"We have a little bit of confidence right now, but we're not going to sit on that," said Jets coach Claude Noel Friday. "I mean, in a matter of two, three games you can go from one extreme to the other. As quickly as it can help you, it can hurt you just as much."

Two points to hammer that home:

-- The Leafs, who were drawing much praise as recently as a week ago, are now winless in four games;

-- The Jets, who weren't officially eliminated until Game 79 a year ago, essentially began the slide to oblivion during a 10-game stretch March 8-28, in which they went 3-7.

"We're right in the battle and we've got the spot right now," said goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "But we've got to keep working hard to get the points. There's no room for bad games or some bad stretch. You put four or five losses together and you can be in big trouble.

"We know the standings, we know what we're playing for. Toronto is going to be ready for us, that's 100 per cent. We just have to keep going and get the points every single night."

The just completed two-game homestand -- both wins -- helped establish that the Jets' blueprint to winning is built on team speed, solid defensive-zone coverage and outstanding goaltending. Of course, it didn't hurt that the power play finally showed a pulse, picking up a man-advantage goal in each of the wins over the Leafs and New York Rangers.

But there's also this: With so many games squeezed into a short time frame -- by Sunday night, the Jets will have played three games in four days -- there's little time to do anything but keep calm and carry on, win or lose.

"Everybody is starting to understand that we're running out of games," said centre Olli Jokinen. "Everybody is realizing the situation that every game is going to be a close game. We just try to focus on staying in the process and sticking with the game plan and trying to do that for the full 60.

"We believe that we can still go better than what we've been going. We're finally in the Top 8 and we want to keep climbing up in the standings."

The Jets, 14-11-2, trail the Leafs by one point, the Senators by two. But the Rangers, Islanders and Flyers are hovering just behind.

"Something we need to be better at is the consistency in our game," said captain Andrew Ladd. "We've found the way we want to play and now it's up to us to keep that going rolling into a couple big games this weekend."

VERY SPECIAL TEAMS: The Jets have now gone 10 games and 26 short-handed situations without surrendering a power-play goal. During the current PK streak, their efficiency has improved from 67.8 to 78.0 per cent and the club's record is 7-2-1. Just as important is their own power play, which has scored in back-to-back games. The Jets are 7-3-0 in games in which they score with the man advantage.

MONTOYA MAKES THREE: Goaltender Al Montoya was on the ice with some teammates during an optional skate on Friday. Noel said he would accompany the team to Toronto and Ottawa, but it's likely Eddie Pasquale will continue to dress as Ondrej Pavelec's backup. Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 C1

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