Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Playing for playoff payoff

Jets players resolve to reward management's faith in them

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It might have been anger, maybe disappointment. Or perhaps it was a bit of both.

But as some Winnipeg Jets gathered Tuesday morning for an optional skate in the wake of both the NHL trade deadline and a terribly uninspired loss to the Edmonton Oilers, there were some distinct and palpable sentiments emanating from the dressing room.


There was the obvious sour reaction and lingering frustration from one of the worst efforts of the season in Monday's loss -- certainly the ugliest in the last half-dozen games -- but there was also this: a sense that in their first opportunity to respond to the faith shown by a management team that opted not to dramatically alter the roster at the deadline, they served up an absolute dog.

And so now there is also another reaction everyone in the dressing room is pushing to soon come into play -- a sense of purpose to reward that faith by scrapping, clawing and dragging this franchise into the post-season for the first time in five springs.

"The guys in here realize that and appreciate that boost of confidence that they've shown by not doing a lot at the trading deadline," said veteran Chris Mason. "Aside from (Monday) we've been playing some great hockey. We're down to 17 games left... we know it's going to be right down to the wire here. But this just shows us they didn't feel like they really had to subtract or add and it helps the guys just worry about hockey.

"We all know it's not going to be easy. We've been in this situation before and every year there are three or four teams that don't get in the playoffs that could have easily been. It's going to take the utmost commitment from everybody to get in. We know that.

"Talking to all the guys," Mason added, "it's a lot better feeling knowing management has our back and we know they're willing to do anything to try and help this team win. As a player, that's all you can ask for. I really enjoy being part of this. It makes it fun to come here every day."

But now it's about taking that one step further. This team wants to be seen as more than simply a young bunch with potential and upside. It craves this simple description: playoff team.

The Jets have 17 games remaining in the 2011-12 season and the next biggest is Thursday at the MTS Centre against the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers. Of the Jets final 17, eight are against divisional opponents and 13 will be versus Eastern Conference rivals

"We're dealing with Florida and that's it," said head coach Claude Noel. "We have 17 playoff games. We have to get as many wins as we can. That game against Florida, everything's gotta be poured into that game. We can leave nothing on the table in that game. In an ideal world, we'd be able to pick up two clean points. That would really be helping ourselves. And then we move onto the next. And then we'll move onto the next task when we get there."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 29, 2012 C3

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