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Great time to make hay

Woe-stricken Southeast handy place for Jets to shoot up standings

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Sunrise, Fla. -- It is the worst division in the NHL and the Winnipeg Jets are as capable of winning it as anyone else.

The Southeast Division is led by the Carolina Hurricanes but it's a six-point lead over the Jets at this stage of the season that is easily surmountable.

The winner of the Southeast will, at the very worst, earn the third seed in the conference and have home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's a carrot worth winning.

The Southeast is a mess.

The Florida Panthers have been waylaid by injuries and with 19 points, are just one point away from being the worst team in the NHL.

No one can figure out the Washington Capitals and they too are just a point out of the basement with 19.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have won once in their last six games and while they are tied for first in the league with 81 goals for, they've also allowed 73 goals against, which ranks 27th in the league. Tampa has 21 points and sits second in the conference.

Next up are your Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have won five of their last 11 games and own a record of 10-11-1 for 21 points and a tie for second with the Lightning.

The Hurricanes used a pair of wins over the lowly Panthers over the weekend and a 4-3 triumph over the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night to shoot up to 27 points and a 13-8-1 record.

There is bad news aplenty throughout the division with three goalies on the shelf. Carolina has lost No. 1 Cam Ward for six to eight weeks, Tampa saw Mathieu Garon go down on Monday night in a loss to Pittsburgh and the Panthers won't have starter Jose Theodore for up to six weeks.

In short order, the division race will likely be down to three teams. The Panthers have 10 regulars out of the lineup right now and the Florida media were jokingly calling them the Florida Rampage on Tuesday morning because so many of their players have been called up from the AHL's San Antonio Rampage.

The Lightning are a puzzling lot. They have high-octane talent with Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Teddy Purcell as well as rookie Cory Conacher all putting up points.

But head coach Guy Boucher has been unable to get his team to pay the slightest bit of attention to team defence and one has to wonder if he's being tuned out right now.

Never a good thing for a team.

The Hurricanes might be the best team in the division but having to weather a two-month period with the tandem of Dan Ellis and Justin Peters in net will be a challenge.

All of this leaves the Jets, who are relatively healthy and hungry to get into the post-season for only the second time in franchise history. Will there every be a better opportunity? Hard to imagine.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 C3

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