Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No slacking off

High-flying Jets can't relax for a single shift

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Imagine if Michelangelo, during the years it took him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, had just once got caught up in all the rave reviews for his work before it was completed.


Picture this scene: A priest comes in, looks up at the artist and declares, "Michelangelo, I love what you've done there with the hand thing, and God giving life to Adam. Nice going, partner."

Now, the true pro that he was, Michelangelo didn't get all big-headed and mail it in for a few days by lazily painting a few stick figures. He created a masterpiece.

All of which -- and we realize this is an enormous reach, but what the heck -- brings us to the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets have painted some dandy scenes over the last little while, the latest an inspiring 2-1 victory over the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins that raised some eyebrows across the NHL neighbourhood. They've won three straight, six of their last seven at MTS Centre and have muscled into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

But it's here where things can get dangerous for this squad: If they don't take care of business tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, then their masterful little run of late is quickly forgotten. Doubly so with a visit to Detroit to face the mighty Red Wings on Saturday. That's just how thin the line is between a modest win streak and dropping back down below .500.

"It's about keeping the pedal down and let's run this thing as far as we can," said Jets' winger Chris Thorburn after a spirited practice at the MTS IcePlex on Thursday. "Obviously this is a big month for us and we want to take advantage of that. Our crowd, the way it was the last game, we want to hear that enthusiasm every game. It was just awesome to be a part of... it was nuts. I mean, I've never played in a game that was that loud or even been in a building that was that loud. They've been here all year, but that game was just crazy.

"This town is excited, but we can't dwell on that. We've got a lot of work to do and it's got to continue against Carolina."

Well said, Mr. Thorburn.

But saying and doing are two different things. And it's why head coach Claude Noel worked the troops hard on Wednesday and pressed their attention to detail on Thursday. The Hurricanes may be last in the conference, but they are coming off a win over the Oilers in Edmonton, have a new boss on the bench in Kirk Muller and are exactly the kind of opponent a young team like the Jets -- especially fresh from besting the champs -- could take for granted.

Asked Thursday if he was conscious of his team possibly being ripe for a letdown, Noel was succinct.

"Yes, I am. We'll be ready to go."

This is just Game 28 of the Jets' 2011-12 schedule. But it will also give us further evidence as to whether this team is indeed taking a step in its maturation or just teasing everyone again with another sampling of its potential. Winning regularly, after all, can be addictive to both the squad and its faithful.

The win over Boston might have been the Jets' hand-of-God-giving-life-to-Adam moment. And now everyone in Jetville wants an encore. And another and another.

"The homestand has been good... we don't want to stop," Noel said. "But it's not only the homestand, it's winning. When you win you want to continue. We're getting close to the (playoff) line and we want to keep going. Now we're a game over .500, so that's a good goal. You slip and you're back to, 'Here we go again.'

"If you can get some streaks going where you are doing well in seven-eight games then that really helps you. And if you can get it to 10-11 then you're really doing good. Our game has been good, but it has to continue." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2011 C1

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