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For Jets, it's a defining week

Path to playoffs depends on them -- and their rivals

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Welcome to the week that's going to define what the Winnipeg Jets' playoff chances really are.

By sometime late Thursday night, after they have played the Florida Panthers -- the follow-up from tonight's game against the Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290), both at the MTS Centre -- the path will be set.


The Jets have two games this week with which to make their choice:

-- OPTION A will involve a pair of wins, making a winning run of three, and would tally 44 points in the standings. This sets the table beautifully for the team's final six games, which will come after a luxurious five (count 'em -- FIVE) home days between games in this lockout-shortened season. The final stretch in this option would begin with some confidence and three home games next week, spaced nicely from Tuesday to Thursday to Saturday.

-- OPTION B will involve lost points from the two games this week. It will leave regret, disappointment and anxiety on the table and will make the span between Thursday and next Tuesday excruciating while all their rivals are playing. Because of the in-conference schedule, some or all of those rivals will be acquiring points while the Jets are idle. And when it's time to play again, the Jets may feel a regular kind of urgency that goes with these situations, but they will also have the unwanted elements of wish, hope and help in the mix, as all things will not be within their control.

There's plenty to keep track of, including what it will take to win the Southeast Division and get the automatic third conference seed for the playoffs, what it will take to catch likely the seventh or eighth seed and also qualify for the post-season, and who's doing what to whom, and where they have to go to do it on a nightly basis from here to the end.

But this week's energy level is more of a priority for the Jets coming off their slump-breaking 4-1 home win over Philadelphia on Saturday.

"You just focus on your next game," said Jets veteran centre Olli Jokinen. "For us, it's really important to get good practice time now. We had a good practice today and we should be really energized every time we play now.

"The next little while, it's two games, then five days (to the next game), so I think that will be good for our team with practice time, and at the same time, when it's game time we've got to be ready. We need the points. We're in the same situation as every other team, but the good thing for us is we don't have to travel."

Having returned home from Montreal and a fifth straight loss late last Thursday, the Jets managed to take the game from the Flyers and enjoy their first two-day, non-travel space between games since early February.

It has made a difference, right-winger Blake Wheeler said.

"It's been crazy," Wheeler said. "No question it has taken a toll. Being able to stay in one spot, sleep in your own bed, do the things you usually take for granted -- you don't really notice until you finally get some rest how much better you feel. It's night and day. We should have energy for this stretch.

"It's not an excuse, but the amount of games we've played in the amount of days, with the travel, it takes a toll on everyone. I think it's going to be huge for us to go game by game now, pour everything into them, and after Thursday, we'll have four days in between games, and sometimes the best medicine is to just get away, take a breather and rejuvenate yourself."

Jets coach Claude Noel swatted away suggestions in the last few days that something goes on the scoreboard because the next four opponents here are all below them in the standings.

"I don't think that anybody stops or lets up or quits because they're below the line or way below the line," he said. "You can't lighten up because we think somebody's not as determined as us. That's not going to happen."

Jokinen said it's time for results and is strongly in favour of Option A above.

"No excuses of being tired," he said. "Now it's time to make the last push and take care of our business. If we do, we'll be fine."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2013 D3


Updated on Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 7:52 AM CDT: replaces photo

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