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Pushing for the post-season

Recent work showed Jets capable of breakthrough

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If the Winnipeg Jets are to be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, there's little question they'll be worthy participants.

How do we know that?

Elementary, my dear Watson.

The race is tight, yes, but of the teams left chasing the final Western Conference playoff berth or berths (if you actually believe two are still up for grabs, and not one), Winnipeg has the most difficult assignment.

As the schedule resumes following the 19-day Olympic schedule interruption, the Dallas Stars held down the eighth and final playoff berth in the west.

From the eighth to 12th spots in the standings, however, the difference was a mere four points (64-60). Minnesota, holding the other wild-card berth at the moment, has 69 points.

And if you want to consider the Los Angeles Kings in the mix -- they would be so only if the ninth-ranked Phoenix Coyotes passed them -- then it's a six-point gap between the Jets and Kings.

Of seven teams that might be in play, from sixth-best Minnesota to 12-ranked Nashville, the Jets have the toughest schedule.

Starting tonight against the Coyotes at the MTS Centre (7 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290), the Jets have 22 games to play and only eight of them are against teams not in a playoff spot at the Olympic break.

The first three, tonight, Saturday in Nashville and next Tuesday at home vs. the Islanders qualify there, so if you also factor in the season's final game against Calgary, the Jets will have an 18-game span in which they face just four non-playoff teams.

In this area, the Stars appear to have the best odds. Of their remaining 24 games, 15 are against current non-playoff teams.

"It's the old cliché of taking it one game at a time," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said Wednesday.

"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We've got to get back to playing the way we were before the break and I think we can even get to another level, which is an exciting prospect for this group."

That pre-break competence was 9-3-1 in 13 games. It rocketed the sagging Jets back in touch with the Western pack.

Winnipeg gained 13 points on Vancouver, 10 on the Kings, six on Phoenix, four on Nashville, but just three on Minnesota and two on Dallas in that time.

"I know we have Phoenix and then I know we have Nashville," Ladd said of the schedule ahead. "That's all I know. It doesn't really matter at the end of the day. You're trying to win as many games as possible. That approach is a lot better, taking it one game at a time, than trying to figure out calculations in your head and how many games you have to win, how many games you can lose... that just gets you nowhere."

If the Jets are wondering about any good news in the stiff test ahead, they could be buoyed by what's right in front of them -- nine of the next 12 are at the MTS Centre.

"I don't think it really matters at this point, we're going to have to be playing good at home and on the road to give ourselves a chance," said centre Bryan Little. "I didn't even know that we were playing nine of the next whatever at home. We've just got to be good every night to give ourselves a chance."

Jets coach Paul Maurice, though, likes having the enthusiasm of home ice in the next few weeks.

"This is a great place to play," Maurice said. "We'd prefer to play 82 of them at home.

"The guys, they've had enough time off away from each other. So they don't mind spending time here at home together.

"I think in this block, a little less travel and put all your energy in the game, conserve your energy, this is going to be a really intense, physically exhausting time for every team. The fact we can get a couple of weeks in before we have to go back out on the road, let's take it as a positive."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2014 D2

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