Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets have chance to bury rival Capitals

Doubleheader sweep would 'discourage' division rivals

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The politically correct answer is for the Winnipeg Jets to talk about taking it one game, one period, one shift at a time.

Don't look too far ahead, don't fixate on what's been left behind and blah, de-blah, blah.

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But if they were not concerned about ruffling feathers and honest about their current situation -- first place in the Southeast Division and with a real chance to start distancing themselves from those behind them in full chase mode -- they'd say this about their Thursday-Friday doubleheader with Washington:

It's time to get medieval on the Caps.

Or, as head coach Claude Noel put it the other day, they could really "discourage" some opponents in their rear-view mirror if they were to finish out this four-game homestand in style.

"This last stretch, we haven't been winning games by luck. It's been a lot of hard work and working together and making sure we're all on the same page," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd.

"It's been followed by success. We don't have time to sit here and praise ourselves and relax. We've got to keep pushing forward.

"You look at the standings, we're battling for our lives so it's not like we're in a comfortable position here. We've got to be desperate every night and we've got to be tough to play against. Every other team is in the same boat. They're all going to be tough games.

"If we keep playing like the way we have, we're confident we'll get in (to the playoffs). But it's on us to keep going and trying to distance ourselves from the last three (playoff) spots. That's the mentality we need to have: we want to get away from that group and push forward."

The Jets follow up the Caps' doubleheader with a Sunday tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then, two of their next three are against the Carolina Hurricanes in a home-and-home matchup wrapped around a date in Pittsburgh. That's a stretch that will see them play four in a row and five of their next six against Southeast Division opponents.

The Jets, now 16-12-2 after Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins, sit atop the Southeast -- two points ahead of the Hurricanes, who have a game in hand -- and third overall in the Eastern Conference. The rare back-to-back with the Caps, who are 12-16-1, could put some real distance between the two division rivals if the Jets were to sweep. But a Washington sweep would move them to within five points.

"You just focus on winning the one and then you focus on the second one," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "I don't look at this as a series, back-to-back... we play Thursday, we play Friday and it happens to be the same opponent.

"If you want to look at the big picture, these are division games and we can control some things in four games here and we could do some good things. And they're looking at it the same way."

Key for the Jets is to continue their turnaround on home ice: Winnipeg has won its last three at the MTS Centre since falling to the Caps 3-0 on March 2, and has 11 of its final 18 -- including a six-game stint in April -- in their own barn.

"From here on out we have to focus on what we can control and that's going into every game and bringing the same mindset we have because it's giving us success," said Blake Wheeler. "There's no reason for us to change anything now.

"We're aware of where we stand. But, at the same time, our priority is taking care of our business and if we do that we're going to end up where we want to be regardless of what other teams do. That's the most-important thing: worrying about our job."

JETCETERA: Noel said goaltender Al Montoya, who was placed on injured reserve this week, is getting close to returning. He worked out Wednesday on the ice during an optional practice... Noel's take on Alex Burmistrov, who returned to the lineup after a four-game stint in the press box: "I don't want him to do anything more than he's capable of doing. I thought he was good in the game, I thought he was responsible."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 21, 2013 D7

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