Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets grinders sharing the spotlight

Third, fourth-liners lighting the lamp, but they still know their role

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They enjoy scoring as much as the next guy but the bottom-six forwards of the Winnipeg Jets are not shifting their priorities, even though they've contributed points in each of the team's last three wins.

Any offence they might contribute could go a long way for the Jets this week, as they continue their effort to barge into the Stanley Cup playoffs with home games tonight (Tampa Bay), Thursday (Carolina) and Saturday (Islanders).

"I think our mindset in the past, well a couple of us in the past, has been that we want to contribute but I think we all know that if we're responsible defensively and we can shut down whoever we're playing against, we feel opportunities will come for us," said Jets left-winger Eric Tangradi, who has one goal this season. "I don't think we sit here dwelling on needing to score to win. It's more that if we play responsibly defensively, we're going to get chances and if we do score, great."

During their three-game winning streak, the Jets have had two goals from Aaron Gagnon, a single from Chris Thorburn and assists from Mike Santorelli and Alex Burmistrov.

The current third- and fourth-line trios -- Burmistrov with Santorelli and Tangradi, then Gagnon with Thorburn and James Wright -- have the less-glamourous jobs, but some sort of contribution is essential.

"Coming down the stretch, these kind of games, there's a lot of focus going on your top-end players," Thorburn said after Monday's practice at the MTS Centre. "If you can get that scoring from the third and fourth line, it's just going to go a long way to helping the team win a hockey game.

"We're not going to look at it other than doing what we do. We want to chip in and help the team win games. Hopefully we'll just keep doing what we've been doing the last few games."

The job is not easy, sometimes approaching that vicious circle that you can't create offence without ice time but you can't get ice time if you don't score. At least once in a while.

"It's not like we get the power-play opportunities -- had one the other night, sure was different and really nice -- but consistently we don't get a whole bunch of ice but that's part of the team makeup," Thorburn, now with two goals, said. "You've got different roles, so when you get out there, do something.

"With Gags and Wrighty, we've just kept it simple, try to get pucks to the net and create some havoc. And we've been fortunate enough to get a few goals. But this is huge for every team. If we can get some or continue some down the stretch, hopefully it'll be enough to get us into the playoffs."

Noel said Monday how games unfold dictates a lot of who plays when.

"If you're in a position where you're only getting offence from one line and you're down by two, you're thinking you've got to play that one line all the time because the others are in slumps," he said.

He said he's watching actions closely.

"For me, the success of players whether they score or they don't score is... those are just results, the end results," the coach said. "The results are there because they play hard or they play the right way, they sacrifice, they go to the net. They get rewarded for their actions.

"That's what I've got to watch."

Still, the coach conceded, there is some payoff in the actual scoring of points.

"It makes them feel more part of it," Noel said. "Plus it shows you we are capable of other people contributing, so it's good for everybody."

Lighting it up, though, is not the same burden for those on the third and fourth lines.

"I'd say for the bottom six (forwards), if we can go out there and create momentum and keep the puck out of our own net, we know if we do those things, the offence will come," Tangradi said. "It's not thinking that if we don't score tonight, we're not having a good game."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2013 D3

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