Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets about to find out where they stand

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IF it's true the NHL season is a marathon, then this weekend's brief pit stop for the Winnipeg Jets is akin to a much-needed water break and a relaxing massage.

And here's the other reality: By the time the Jets return to work on Monday and play their next game Wednesday against Dallas, their Eastern Conference rivals chasing the same playoff spot will have all but caught up to them in games played. Indeed, for much of the last few weeks, the Jets have long been like the runner on the outside lane in a staggered start.

But by Monday they'll have a much better idea of how much ground they need to make up over the remainder of the regular season.

"It'll be good from the standpoint of identifying sincerely where you're at," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "It's not wondering whether they will pull ahead or not. At least it's let's put the cards on the table and see what we've got. From that standpoint, at least we're dealing with reality. It's a fun time to still be competing and in the hunt."

Added defenceman Mark Stuart: "Now it's a race to the finish. There's no excuses now. It's just a matter of putting some good games together, getting some points and going from there."

Interestingly, by the time the Jets play again Wednesday, they will have one game in hand on Washington, Buffalo, Toronto, Carolina, the Islanders and Montreal and will have played the same number of games as Tampa and Florida.

"I'll be watching," said Jim Slater. "I'm one of those guys who likes to know what's going on. It's part of our business to follow what other teams are doing. I'm going to be right there seeing who is getting points and who's not.

"We've known (their rivals) have had games in hand, so this has kind of been a false sense of where we're at. On the other hand, they have to win those games to move ahead, and so by the end of this weekend, I think we'll have a good feel for where we're sitting and what we need to do for the rest of the year."

Jet players held a meeting Saturday in which they talked about a few things that needed correcting and about pushing forward. Just as Noel has stressed, the team will not spend the next few days beating themselves up for the losses in Vancouver and Calgary.

"It's a good thing," said Tim Stapleton of today's off day. "Less is more right now. It's a smart decision. We can get our mind off things and get ready for Monday.

"It was a tough two games, but it's that time of year where you can't dwell on things and you've got to stay positive."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2012 B3

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