RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes should have been as desperate as the housewives of Beverly Hills, Orange County and Vancouver all put together but no matter as the Winnipeg Jets weren't interested in a sympathy date Tuesday.
The Jets have fallen prey to teams with more urgency of late -- the Washington Capitals come to mind -- and Tuesday night set up as another trap game for Winnipeg.
Carolina just simply couldn't afford to lose and the Jets, while a victory would and did help their cause, were not in a must-win situation.
Too often that has been a recipe for satisfaction instead of hunger and the Jets have suffered. But not Tuesday as a simple road-game approach, efficient goaltending and secondary scoring spelled victory for the Jets. A convincing 4-1 win over the Hurricanes gave Winnipeg a much firmer hold on the Southeast Division while planting more doubt in the minds of their pursuers.
"If you had have been in this room before the game and seen the look in the guys' eyes you would have known we were going to win," said veteran Olli Jokinen. "We were confident and ready and focused on winning. We fell behind and didn't let it affect what we were trying to do. This is an important win for us. Now we can go into Pittsburgh and really test ourselves."
For Winnipeg, the season has now become about beating those chasing them. The Jets have been experiencing new emotions for some time now and today they will wake up with the feeling of having applied another cut to a foe they hope to vanquish. Will it feel good? Most certainly, and perhaps it will be breakthrough for a team searching to become a playoff contestant.
The Jets improved their record to 18-14-2 with 38 points to take a six-point lead on the Hurricanes in the battle for the Southeast and third seed in the Eastern Conference. Winnipeg now has 14 games left and is closing in on its first playoff berth since the franchise moved from Atlanta prior to last season.
There's lots of track left in the race but the Jets continue to put up points and distance themselves from the Southeast pack. Winnipeg has collected points in nine of its last 12 games and has not taken the swoon many keep waiting on.
Perhaps the Jets will falter, but with every step to the finish line they push that possibility further into the corner.
"We're starting to gain a little experience. We've had some games where we were behind and then we showed we could score and get back in it. It's all a process and you can't get too high or too low in these games," said Blake Wheeler.
"We're aware of where we stand and we need to keep building because the teams behind us are chasing. We need to take care of our business when we can."
There is no conclusion to this season in sight for the Jets right now. Not in a positive manner or negative. Just more games that matter. For a team on the rise, it's all that can be expected.
One more day and one more step for the Jets. This was a chance to stumble or a chance to take a step forward. This time it was the right step.
Wheeler is right; close isn't good enough. But close can turn into the end goal if the right steps continue to be taken. Hang on, the ride's just getting interesting.
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