Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Paper tigers lose edge on ice

Jets consistently fall to weaker teams

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THE Winnipeg Jets lose way too often on the ice to teams they should beat on paper.

That's a big reason they find themselves still trying to claw into an NHL playoff spot.

This is relevant because tonight's visitors at the MTS Centre are the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that stands below the Jets in the standings. It's a scenario that too often promotes the feeling of "should win" when the Jets' track record in the 2013-14 season shows defeats to numerous teams below them in the standings, including Ottawa (twice), Buffalo, the Islanders, Nashville, Calgary and Edmonton.

No team's perfect in this regard, but...

"I know there's the thought we should beat Carolina because they're below us in the standings, but they've got a good team," Jets coach Paul Maurice said Friday. "When you say that, my back gets up because I'm thinking Staal, Staal, Skinner, Semin, Ward. This is a pretty good hockey team coming in here."

Winnipeg, at 73 points and six back of the eighth-place Phoenix Coyotes, meets the Hurricanes, at 69 points and nine points out of a berth prior to Friday's game in Chicago, tonight at 6 p.m. (CBC, TSN 1290).

The Jets have won two of the last three and should feel some momentum, said Wednesday's overtime hero, Blake Wheeler.

"Our game overall should be having us go in the right direction," Wheeler said. "We're still in the middle of this thing, very much in the fight, and we're playing teams that are in front of us still. I think the excitement of having 10 or 11 games left and having important games to play, that should be our focus right now.

"We've had games where we've played well and haven't gotten the result. It was nice to see one go our way."

In snapping their six-game slide with wins in two of the last three, the Jets have enjoyed goals from Evander Kane in both wins.

He's now up to three goals under Maurice, the new coach.

"I think my last couple of games haven't been my best ones," Kane said after Friday's practice. "I've been able to score, but when I wasn't scoring I thought I was playing pretty well, so hopefully will try to put both together tomorrow night and look forward to a big week ahead.

"It's an opportunity for us to grab two points and get that much closer."

The importance of the game tonight is something the Jets are used to, Kane agreed.

"Probably just because we haven't been cemented in the playoffs this time of year," he said. "We've always been coming from behind or trying to get in.

"We're kind of used to it. Hopefully next time we're talking about positioning and not trying to get in.

"There's definitely pressure but that comes with the job description. We have to take it one game at a time. We knew there was still a lot of hockey left and we could still get back into it."

The rash of injuries that has hamstrung the Jets could improve tonight, Maurice said Friday.

He expects forwards Dustin Byfuglien (lower body) and Jim Slater (lower) and defenceman Zach Bogosian (upper) will take today's morning skate and be possibilities against Carolina.

Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who left the March 14 game against the Rangers after one period, is still out but skated Thursday and Friday. He might be ready next week.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 C2

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