Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It is now time for winning to begin

Jets sure playoffs are a realistic goal

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The time for patting one another on the back is over but the work has just begun.

Yes, we've triumphed as a community and yes this is a beautiful time in Winnipeg history. But all that and a Don Spring wobbler from the point won't get you two points in today's NHL. Now it's time for the Jets to roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of winning hockey games.

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No one, beginning with the Montreal Canadiens, is going to step aside and hand the Winnipeg Jets a win as a welcome back gift to the NHL.

Beginning today, the accolades and well wishes grind to a halt and 29 teams in the NHL will be doing their best to slash the Jets' tires and leave them stranded on the side of the Trans Canada, New Jersey turnpike or U.S. interstate of your liking.

Carey Price will be in net for the Habs this afternoon and that's as real as it gets in the world's best hockey league. It's hard to win and every team has wonderful players capable of ruining your day.

The Jets understand this better than anyone and while they'll be enjoying the moment this afternoon, they'll be doing their best not to get caught up in it.

This little story of ours is nice and all, but the players have something else in mind and they need to stack up wins early, often and with consistency to achieve it.

A trip to the playoffs takes this screenplay from made for TV tearjerker to Oscar calibre drama. From Brian's Song to Chariots of Fire. Winning and a playoff berth transforms the Jets from those lovable scamps uprooted from Atlanta into a collection of George Clooneys, Gary Coopers and Paul Newmans.

The kind of guys that steal your girl and then kick your ass in the parking lot for good measure. The Jets are everyone's favourite mascot today but they have a different and bolder identity in mind. Come spring the Jets want to be known as a killing machine that leaves fans in other buildings wondering who just gutted their heroes.

Coach Claude Noel addressed the issue of his team's playoff potential on Saturday morning after their final pre-season practice.

"Yes," said Noel, when asked in front of a collection of media who have travelled from across the country to watch this historic hockey game. "I think the players are ready to get the challenge that is in front of them. I think they know the challenge. What's exciting to me about the group is growth and you can't put your finger on that."

Captain Andrew Ladd says the playoffs are front and centre in the goals of he and his teammates.

"The playoffs are the expectation of the guys in the room and I think the fans should expect it too," said Ladd. "It's nice to have that pressure from the fans and the community. Yeah, I expect us to be in the playoffs."

Good enough. So does all of Winnipeg. Let the winning commence.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 9, 2011 B3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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