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Fore! Here come the Jets

Officially eliminated from NHL playoff contention

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No need to hold the presses on this Winnipeg Jets' regular season.

With four games left of their 82, the Jets' quest for the Stanley Cup playoffs came to an official end on Thursday night, a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins neatly snipping that flimsy string that's been holding their dream for a couple of weeks.

The math would still appear to be there, but one thing scuttles it. Dallas and Phoenix, who are currently tied for the eighth and final Western Conference slot, meet in the last game of the regular season and one of them has to win, therefore one of them will be, at worst, 87 points no matter what, a total the Jets, stuck on 78, cannot now reach. End of story.

That's three-for-three also-rans since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011.

"We've got a week to do the autopsy. Let's do it later," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, in one of his crustier moods after his record here fell to 15-11-5.

It might also have had something to do with the battle scar -- a gash over his right eye from a puck shot into the Jets bench during the loss.

"It's obviously disappointing," said Jets left-winger Evander Kane of the playoff hopes ending.

"I think it was looking pretty promising going into the (schedule) break and we didn't get the results we needed coming out of the break in order to put ourselves in position to be playing meaningful games this time of year."

At 34-34-10, the Jets have four games left, the next on Saturday night in Toronto, one that will be meaningful to the Leafs.

 

Promise, once

THE Jets were tied with the eighth-place Stars with their win in Nashville on March 1, but have sagged to 5-8-4 since to fall out of it.

"We've had close games, a lot of one-goal games, from the beginning of the year," Kane said. "I think even if you can push those games into overtime and get that extra point, we could be in a different position. But we didn't have that... I guess, clutch-ness in the last frame to maybe be on the other side of those one-goal games.

"We sat back, I know, a lot early in the year when we did have leads and I think of late we've been trying to push, but some of those old habits have been creeping in a little bit."

Added Olli Jokinen, who scored his 17th of the season Thursday: "You should never be behind. We just haven't been able to find a way to win those games.

"It always gets harder towards the end. So that's why there is 82 games and those games early in the year are really important, too, because every point counts."

 

Post-season for Pens

With their win, the Penguins reached 103 points to clinch the Metropolitan Division and second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Captain Sidney Crosby added to his NHL-leading scoring total with two assists, and good ones they were, as the visitors got goals from Beau Bennett, Craig Adams, and then Paul Martin and Brian Gibbons to snap a 2-2 deadline heading into the third period.

 

Benefit of doubt

MARTIN'S game-winner, on a power play at 7:42 of the third, had an odour to it.

The close referee on Crosby's rush up the middle chose to make no call but the back referee on the play nabbed Jet Mark Stuart for hooking, that after quite a protest from Crosby.

Then on the power play, James Neal ran a perfect pick on Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom out of the corner, leaving a lane for the puck to Martin and the winning shot.

"We've been pretty good with our sticks," Maurice said.

"We've made an improvement in our game, not taking as many bad penalties. I'm not sure that one is yet. That one's going to be a debatable one but sometimes you've got to get a little farther up the food chain before you get the benefit of the doubt."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

more coverage on c2-3

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