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Can you say 'playoffs?'

Post-season suddenly looks doable for red-hot Jets

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Mark Zaleski / the associated press
Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec does the splits to stymie Predators forward Mike Fisher in the third period on Saturday in Nashville.

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Mark Zaleski / the associated press Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec does the splits to stymie Predators forward Mike Fisher in the third period on Saturday in Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Catching up from 10 points behind in six weeks in today's shootout era is no small feat.

But that's just the feat the Winnipeg Jets are trying to pull off. And their 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday afternoon drew them into a temporary tie with the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks at 66 points, the level of the final playoff spot in the NHL's Western Conference.

With 20 games to go, the Jets are surging -- just one regulation loss (5-1-1) in their last seven and now 11-3-1 under coach Paul Maurice -- but like death, taxes and poor roads in winter, there is another sure thing ahead.

The playoff line will keep moving upwards and it won't take any weeks off.

"No (it means nothing), not yet," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said Saturday. "I understand we need to watch. We're watching every game to see what people do. But at the end of the day if we don't take care of our business here, it's not going to happen anyway.

"We'll be hoping that those teams find ways to lose, but we're not going to be hanging on every game. We're just going out to take care of our business."

That business has been mostly focus and staying away from in-game panic as much as possible.

"I have to give Winnipeg credit, they had full commitment from everybody and they got a couple of huge saves," Preds coach Barry Trotz said after his team outshot the Jets 40-20. Nashville isn't out of it, but now trails Winnipeg by four points.

"You can't worry about other teams," Jets centre Olli Jokinen said. "It's not going to be the focus moving forward. We still have to have the approach to focus on the next game. That's all. That's how it's been since Paul came. It's what he's preaching."

Pav rules

He seems to attract a lot of attention these days and Saturday, Jets No. 1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec attracted a lot of pucks.

He stopped 39 to gain his 20th win of the season (20-22-4) and he's had two fine games coming out of the Olympic break.

"It was a key, to stay 0-0 after the first," Pavelec said after the Jets needed almost 10 minutes to get a shot on goal in the first. "It wasn't easy, especially against their power play. They have really good players. The last game against Tampa they did a great job, so I think we had to battle hard. It's a good win for us."

That storm weathered, Jokinen provided the game's first goal and the Jets did not resort too much to "shell" mode.

"The first goal in the second period, that was huge for us," Pavelec said. "It wasn't pretty but we battled, and it's about battle. It's a good feeling."

Set lines, sort of

Maurice pulled a small switcheroo mid-game, sending Devin Setoguchi to play with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele and moving Evander Kane to the line with Olli Jokinen and Dustin Byfuglien.

Jokinen and Setoguchi both scored on Saturday.

"I've been thinking about that for a while," Maurice said. "For me it's as much about Kane playing with Jokinen and Byfuglien. I think you'll see those lines move a bit.

"As soon as Evander went with Jokinen and Byfuglien, they looked strong."

Maurice said the minor change wasn't that dramatic, sparked by his confidence that Scheifele and Wheeler do not need another player on that line "who can fly."

Lead a key

The way so many late-season games go, the lead will be a factor most nights.

So when Jokinen took Jacob Trouba's stretch pass -- Maurice insisted Kane just let the puck go through to Jokinen -- and got behind the Nashville defence for the game's first goal at 5:02 of the second, the Jets indeed were on their way.

"You kind of felt that after the first period, that we had weathered that storm... that the first team that scored was going to have a real leg up, more than in a normal game," Maurice said.

Added Jokinen, who now has 14 goals on the season: "Everything happened so fast. I came from the bench with (Mark) Scheifele changing and that was good, I guess. Maybe they didn't know I was behind them."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2014 B3

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