Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets can soar with the best in NHL

Wins against top teams says so

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Now that we've seen what the Winnipeg Jets can be, anything less should be unacceptable.

The Jets have mostly teased, one night putting forth an effort worth praising and then rolling around in the dumpster in the next, with predictably smelly results.

Inconsistent has been an apt label, but this week they came through with their very best hockey -- and did it three games in a row against some of the best teams the NHL has to offer.

The Jets, when they want to, can rub shoulders with the league's elite. For us to have to suffer through any more of the sub-par hockey we saw earlier on just won't do. They've given us a taste of the high life and we ain't going back.

One can argue three straight wins is just a blip in an 82-game season, but the quality of the opponents this week -- Tampa, Washington and Philadelphia -- says the Jets can soar with the best.

"I think our group is playing well and I hope this is who we are. I know this is where we want to get to," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "We talked three games ago (after beating the Lightning 5-2 on Monday) about the bar being raised and we've walked in and played a couple of games since then pretty close to that level. It's a standard we want to play to and I think the group understands better how to win and how to play to win."

Just over a week ago a watershed loss to the Florida Panthers had ownership, management, players and certainly the fan base not only seething about the Jets' results, but more importantly, their approach to work at both games and practices.

Veteran Tanner Glass stated there were "passengers," in the room and wasn't alone in the view. Noel jabbed at his players during a practice -- "it would be nice if you would expect more from yourselves" --and all in all the mood around the team was horrible.

Maybe it was a case of hitting rock bottom but since then the Jets have enjoyed a week like no other team in the NHL.

Steven Stamkos? Whatever. Alex Ovechkin? Pointless. Chris Pronger? Like the fans said, "Boo."

The Jets are on a roll and while it's a long way to the playoffs, they've tipped their hand. This group should fight for a tournament berth.

"It's a commitment from each guy. We weren't happy with our play. It came from within. It came from us. We decided to commit to doing the right things. The gritty little things it takes to win," said Glass, who believes his team can stay at its present level. "We're definitely capable of it. We've proven to ourselves and the fans that when we're committed to playing the right way and doing the simple things -- whether its getting the puck out when you are supposed to, or making sure we're 200 feet from our net when we turn the puck over -- it makes us a tough team to play against."

A backslide, from what we've seen from the up and down Jets to this point in the season seems inevitable. But Glass says they can and must guard against one.

"From what I understand from the guys that have been here for a while is they had some good spurts in Atlanta but then let off. The real test is if we can sustain this effort," he said.

Previously there was some talk about the Jets getting a free pass this season because it's their first in Winnipeg. Uh, sell that to fans that don't understand hockey. This crowd does and now that it's seen the best the Jets have to offer -- they're going to clamour for more.

So go ahead and take a nap for a few games, Jets. We dare you.

You've put it out there and underachieving will come at a price. One no one wants to pay.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 20, 2011 B5

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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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