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Miettinen regains his game

Veteran forward figures way out of scoring slump

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His life back to something close to normal, Winnipeg Jets right-winger Antti Miettinen sounds more than glad to have just survived the last year.

The 31-year-old Finn has finally broken out of his long scoring slump, a drought that lasted 34 games after he was claimed on waivers in December when he returned to the NHL from the KHL.

At this time last year, Miettinen had decided to play in Russia for Ak-Bars Kazan, a decision he said this week he would not have taken, knowing what he knows now.

It wasn't anything to do with the Russian club or city, but more a matter of his family.

While he played in Russia, he was away from his wife, who gave birth to the couple's second child in the fall.

"So far, it was the toughest time of my life, being away from them for two months," Miettinen said. "It was probably the toughest time for her, too. A month before and a month after the baby was born, we were not together. It was mentally really draining to think about it.

"We got over that part quickly once we got here."

Miettinen's game, however, did not recover quickly.

The veteran of 512 NHL games struggled to be effective when he arrived in Winnipeg. His ice time dwindled, he passed through waivers and he was also a healthy scratch for five games.

"It should not take that long at all," he said. "I don't really know how that's even possible."

But Miettinen, after quiet fits of frustration and anger, found his way out of the funk, starting to make better plays and contribute without scoring sometime early in March. And then came his pair of two-goal games, both at the MTS Centre.

He said he knew his game wasn't lost.

"I kind of knew it all the time but I don't know why it was so difficult to that getting to feel normal again," he said, having lately filled in on the GST Line while Chris Thorburn is out. "I don't think I've forgotten it. It's been about a year overall. I think it's better to get over it, just move on."

About his frustration, he added: "It's been getting the anger channelled the right way that is important, instead of building it and feeling frustration through it.

"It's been about moving better, skating and forechecking and getting to loose pucks. Being able to get around in the offensive zone. It's just being sharp, I guess."

Jets coach Claude Noel said he can empathize with Miettinen's ordeal and sounded happy he was playing better.

"He was good with Antropov before (Antropov) got hurt, really starting to come around," Noel said.

"Even since then, his play has been way better. It looks like he's got more confidence, he's got way more poise with the puck. It's evident he makes plays with the puck now more than before.

"The puck seems to be finding him and he seems to be a good, productive player for us of late. He'd have gone through a tough time, coming from Europe and then here, it was a long drought for him."

-- -- --

The Jets took Antropov and Thorburn with them on the road trip that begins tonight in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Antropov, who's been out since being hurt March 18 against Carolina, has missed five games and the Jets are hoping he's ready to go tonight.

Thorburn has been out with a lower-body injury since March 9 in Calgary and is more likely to return to action early next week. He has finally returned to practice with his teammates.

-- -- --

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec has started 13 in a row but it's a good bet, with the team's chance of making the playoffs all but vanished, that backup Chris Mason sees some action soon.

Mason's last appearance was in relief March 20 at Pittsburgh but it's been more than a month since his last start, Feb. 25 at home against St. Louis.

Mason has beaten the Hurricanes three times this season.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2012 C2

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