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How about Playoff Jets?

Big-time players must keep making big-time plays, especially on road

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Sixteen games remain and many wins are still needed for the Winnipeg Jets to keep playing after April 7.

So the front-and-centre question on many Jets fans' minds is: Can they do it?

The basis for the answer will be found in a key choice: Which Jets are the real Jets?

Here are the four options:

 

1. The Starter Jets, lost and overrun by the franchise-relocation tempest.

The excitement of the city's return to the NHL, a buzz about training camp, playoff-style atmosphere at exhibition games and intense attention set the Jets up for something that resembled stage fright.

The team lost its first three games and five of the first six, coming out of this identifiable segment with a record of 5-9-3.

It included 11 of the first 15 games on the road, no help to a group that needed some stability after all the unstable preceding months.

The segment ended with a pair of pathetic losses, one at home to Florida and the other to the sad-sack Columbus Blue Jackets.

 

2. The "You Won't Like Winnipeg" Jets, who established that the MTS Centre is no fun to visit.

These Jets discovered many secrets about successfully playing at home, and in the 21 games through New Year's Eve, lifted themselves into a playoff spot by posting a 14-5-2 record.

Home fans saw no fewer than 12 wins in this period, and some heavy opponents such as Philadelphia, Boston and then-soaring Minnesota were defeated.

The month of December that included 12 of 14 games in Winnipeg wasn't perfect, but it enhanced the team identity, yielding a mark of 10-3-1.

These Jets adopted their fans as the constant extra attacker, rewriting NHL prose everywhere from "the smallest building in the NHL" to "the loudest" or "the toughest" place to play.

 

3. The "Oh-Oh, Those Skeptics Might Have Been Right" Jets, who seemed to need to discover on their own that excellent goalies Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason are indeed excellent, but not excellent enough to pick corners from 180 feet or win games on their own.

These Jets were worse than even the bewildered Jets of Segment 1. They scored just 34 times in a string of 20 games through Valentine's Day. It was one goal or no goals in nine of the 20 games, putting unbearable pressure on their netminders and play in their own zone.

In the process, they outdid (or undid) themselves from their early days, scoring just seven power-play goals in 52 chances in the stretch, and power-play goals in just five games out of 20.

The record here was an unsurprising 7-12-1, and four of those wins came via overtime or shootout.

The segment included 14 road games, exposing that weakness in the team's foundation yet again, and a slide to an out-of-the-playoffs position was inevitable.

 

4. The "Healthier and Not Giving Up" Jets, who seemed determined to at least stay relevant.

The corner to the segment currently in progress was turned in an important location -- away from Winnipeg. A shootout win in Minnesota has started the ball rolling down the stretch, and these Jets are 5-1-2 and dramatically better than Segment 3.

They currently have no injuries, a not-so-frequent state this season.

Already in the few games of this segment, these Jets have scored 32 goals, including 10 power-play goals, a dramatic contrast to just a few weeks earlier.

How is that possible?

"The main thing is confidence is a little higher," Jets centre Bryan Little said. "Once you have a game where everyone gets on the scoresheet, it kind of boosts confidence by a lot.

"I think now there's a difference. Before, we were just getting scoring in bunches from one line at a time. Now, it seems like every line is chipping in on the action. That'll definitely make the scoring come more in bunches when every line is chipping in."

The factor that seems to have marked the beginning of this segment was captain Andrew Ladd's mid-February call for the team's best players to be its best players.

It's a well-worn cliché, but given the dismal production of Segment 3, highly relevant.

"I think we're just executing," said Jets sniper Evander Kane, leading the team with 26 goals. "It goes back to when we weren't clicking on the power play and we weren't scoring goals. Our execution level has been more focused. We're finishing off plays.

"I think our top players are being our top players. That's probably the biggest thing in terms of putting out more offence and scoring more goals."

Not much time remains in the regular season. Is there another version of the Jets to come, or is one of the above the real deal?

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2012 C3

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