Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's all about intensity now

Winnipeg gets a chance to breathe with just 8 games left

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Having played the most games in the NHL through Sunday -- and most of the last two weeks -- the Winnipeg Jets now get a manner of payback.

And it's a double-edged sword.

With 40 games done and 40 points in the bank, the Jets have a rather reasonable, home-heavy schedule the rest of the way. Just eight games remain. The next in the six-game homestand is Tuesday night at the MTS Centre against the Buffalo Sabres.

But while the Jets find a few extra days off in the next nine days -- they play on Tuesday, Thursday against Florida and not again until Tuesday next week against Tampa Bay -- their rivals will be catching up in games played and in opportunities to gain points.

And in this season's Eastern Conference-plays-Eastern Conference-only schedule, somebody's getting points every night.

Scoreboard-watching will be in play many nights, but the Jets continued to say Sunday they're focused on their own task.

It will include a full team practice today at the MTS Centre, taking advantage of the first time in almost eight weeks the team has two non-game days in a row without travel.

"And even then, I'm not sure who all we'll have out there," Jets coach Claude Noel said after an optional skate Sunday that followed Saturday's relief-filled 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. "We have a fair amount of bodies around. The wildest thing is that it's odd that we have two days between games.

"I can't remember the last time we had time between games. It's almost a shock. I almost don't know what to do."

There will be better clarity in preparing for the Sabres after snapping their five-game losing streak Saturday.

"When you have a losing streak at this critical point of the season, our focus was basically just get a win," Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey said. "If it had to be 1-0, then it would be 1-0. Or 9-8, though I would not prefer that, that would be fine. That was the objective. We accomplished it. It's nice to have a couple of days here to mentally regroup before games. It's been a while since that's been the case."

Nobody needs to tell the team about the importance or urgency required for the final eight games, Hainsey said.

"The games are all going to be for us, not do-or-die because that's not the right word, but games if you potentially lose and someone else wins, you could possibly put yourself behind the eight-ball," he said.

"This late, by the time we play, we'll have two weeks left essentially, and they're all going to be important games. If you have a night where everybody wins and you lose, you'll be putting yourself in a spot where you might have to win a lot of games."

Just how many wins remains to be seen, but Saturday's was a good start.

"We've got a ways to go, even when you look at it," Noel said. "It was good in a lot of ways, good for everything -- our self-esteem, getting rewarded for working and working the right way.

"It puts us back nearby. It doesn't really solve anything completely. We've got a ways to go yet. We know that."

That's the big step this team is trying to make.

"This group has been in this position, hovering in this area for five years," Hainsey said. "I think my first year we were in Atlanta, we were out probably two or three weeks before (the finish)."

He cited the many close calls to the playoffs since. "These are exciting games to play, games you want to play in for as long as you can," he said. "Intense, fun games to play."

The intensity will be what Noel is looking for, and completely forgetting where Buffalo or Florida may be in the standings this week.

"We're beyond guarding," Noel said. "Trust me on that one. We have to win games -- that's it. You can spell it how you want. I would have not liked to have guarded five, six games ago.

"At this juncture, come on, you have to... we have to be good, have to expect to be good. That's it. Anything less than that is failure.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

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"Some practice days do not hurt. That has been out there, that we haven't had a chance to practise. No one has. I haven't heard of a team having a long stretch of practice to get prepared to play us. Every team that comes in is very similar, not skating in the morning, it's just the way this season is.

"It'll be nice to have a practice to get prepared but as far as using that as any sort of reason for anything, nobody's practising a lot, or maybe just a day here or there and it's no vaild explanation for anything in my opinion."

-- Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey on the team's priority, practice or rest?

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2013 C3

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