December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
They are comfortable calling Winnipeg home now. And while the nickname has changed, the colours are new and the ownership well-financed and committed, the Winnipeg Jets also know this:
Until they gain entry into the Stanley Cup derby, the inglorious playoff history that has followed them north from Atlanta -- one lousy post-season appearance since the franchise birth in 1999 -- will remain like a stain in the carpet.
And that's both an ugly past and a heavy burden to lug into the last seven games of the 2013 regular season.
"It seems like the past gets brought up a lot around here just with the organization moving and stuff like that," said veteran winger Chris Thorburn after practice Wednesday. "But at the same time we're a different group of guys. Guys have obviously matured and gotten older and learned from the past.
"We've got a fresh room in here and it's kinda showing down the stretch where guys are coming to play every night. It's just nice to see and it's something we can build off of on a night-to-night basis."
There is truth to what Thorburn speaks. Of the current Jets, 15 -- or just more than half -- have no connection whatsoever to the Thrashers. Others, like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, have reached the playoff pinnacle by hoisting the Stanley Cup above their heads as members of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Ladd, in fact, owns two Stanley Cup rings -- the other from the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes.
So, you can see why the current Jets want to distance themselves from the past. They insist this isn't about three years ago. Or six years ago, when the Thrashers were swept from the first round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers.
It's about now. It's about getting to the post-season with their current collection, some of them new, some of them vets from the Georgia days.
"I mean, (the Thrashers' playoff history)... it's over," said Thorburn. "We're a new organization, we're a new team, new players. That mindset is long gone. It's what's in here now. We need to be in the present and for the most part we've handled that well, as far as taking that mentality."
Still, there's also this reluctant admission: To make all these historical references go away -- to carve their own place -- there is one critical step that has to be taken.
"We've got to make the playoffs," said Thorburn. "And that's everyone's goal coming into the year, right? Why do you work out in the summer if we're not going to make the playoffs. That's what it's going to take. Individually and as a team, that's all we care about."
Seven games left to transform from a bubble team -- one that was on the outside looking in when the playoffs started last spring after being eliminated in the 79th game of the regular season -- to one with at least a shot at glory.
Seven games left to remove that stain.
"This is my fifth year and I've been close a few times," said Zach Bogosian. "The previous four years it's been up and down, closer in some years than others. It just feels nice to be in the mix right now.
"With this franchise what is it, four... five playoff games when they lost to New York a few years ago? That's something a lot of us in here, especially the younger guys who haven't had a chance to play in the playoffs want to change. The more and more your years go by the more you realize and understand how hard it is for guys to win a Stanley Cup and get into the playoffs.
"All we want is a chance."
PEAKS AND VALLEYS: Here's Jets coach Claude Noel when asked about his team's streaky nature -- they've now won two straight after dumping five in a row:
"That's the magical question: how do you account for it and what are the reasons? Those are the things you're trying to find solutions to. I think it speaks of your confidence, in many ways. It's the same thing as a slump and whether you deal with it as an individual or a team. I have reasons, things I think are reasons, but I don't think you can really nail them down. You might see patterns over time.
"I don't have a list of six things and say, 'here it is...' I do know confidence does play a factor and in sports it's real, it's a very real thing.
"When you win it's like a swagger," Noel continued. "How do you describe a swagger? It's the same thing. We talked about (not) tippy-toeing into the (Buffalo) game. We played the game good. We started it good. We were good the first 15 minutes but we're still tied 0-0. But you know what? The language I saw and we were getting, I thought, 'OK, we're all right here. Let's just keep going.' We did a couple of things between periods and we just went ahead and did our stuff and it looked after itself again. You know what, you do the same thing in a four-game losing streak and it can be, 'Where did it go? What happened?' "
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2013 D2
Updated on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 9:16 AM CDT: