Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Can Jets take a punch?

Squad desperate to regroup vs. Caps after humbling loss in Steel City

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It was at a rink attached to a shopping mall in Arlington, Va. -- directions: just go past the sushi bar and take the elevator to the eighth floor -- where the Winnipeg Jets gathered to regroup, refocus and breathe some life back into their chase for a playoff spot.

And so if you were to describe the mood of the squad after being bent over knee and spanked 8-4 by the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, it would go something like this:

 

Still smarting, but soldiering on. Still shell-shocked, but saying all the right things about getting up off the mat for Friday's critical contest with the Washington Capitals.

"It's right there for us," said veteran winger Tanner Glass. "People make so much of these games... we need these two points, those two points. But when it comes down to it, the points aren't counted until the end. We still have games left and if we win these games we give ourselves a chance. That's our focus right now.

"We're not looking back, we're looking forward. And we're still confident."

But the Jets are also realists.

Or should be, because their playoff hopes are fading with each setback. In fact, when the puck drops Friday night at the Verizon Center, Winnipeg could be six points back of the Caps -- who face the Flyers in Philadelphia today -- with just nine games remaining.

All this while dealing with the ongoing issue of their icky road record, the unlikely availability of Nik Antropov and Eric Fehr and the beatdown they just suffered at the hands of the Pens.

But a fresh sheet of ice offers a ton of opportunity, too.

"The mood for me is we have to move past (the loss to the Pens)," said coach Claude Noel. "We can't get into an emotional roller-coaster of winning and losing and celebrating because we beat Washington 3-2 (last Friday). We've got to keep ourselves at an even keel. We have to move forward.

"The objective doesn't change. The game on Friday is still a big game. We'll try and muster up what we can for that game. We'll be a lot better on Friday."

They'll need to be against a Capitals squad that knocked off Detroit on Monday night and is being led by captain Alex Ovechkin, who has five goals in his last four games.

That said, the Jets are 3-1-1 in their five games against the Caps this season, including last Friday's 3-2 win at the MTS Centre.

Worth noting: for as good as Winnipeg has been at home, the Caps are just as deadly in their own barn with a 23-10-3 mark.

"Obviously that game will be extremely big in determining our fate here," said defenceman Ron Hainsey. "We have to put everything we can into that game and not even worry about the fact with have to go to Nashville on Saturday."

And so in a season that has been all about learning about this team that has dropped into Winnipeg's lap, Friday night will teach everyone a little more.

Can the Jets take a punch, as they did Tuesday, and still come up swinging Friday? And can they do it with more than a smidgen of desperation in their game, knowing the obit on the 2011-12 season could be penned in the next few days?

"That's what makes our job, how you handle all that," said Glass. "That's pro sports. The key is to stay even, stay with it all the time and come to the rink every day with a smile on your face and ready to go to work.

"I can only speak for myself, but I'm fine. I'm ready."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2012 D3

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