Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nine Jets regulars have never tasted playoffs... and it's starting to get to them

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This is what motivates Bryan Little every day. And, truthfully, it also occasionally has him ready to bang his head against a wall in frustration:

A veteran of 347 NHL games and counting, Little has played in exactly ZERO Stanley Cup playoff games. Sitting beside him in the Jet dressing room is his linemate Andrew Ladd, a guy who already has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Twice.

So, while simply qualifying for the playoffs is old hat in places like Detroit and Boston, it matters a ton to Little and the other players on the current Jet lineup who have yet to appear in a single post-season contest.

And that can be as powerful a motivator as any as the Jets face the Washington Capitals tonight with their playoff future precariously hanging in the balance.

"I've played four years and I've never played in a playoff game," said Little Thursday after the Jets practised in Arlington, Va. "So, believe me, there's nothing more that we want than to make the playoffs. If we don't, it's going to be a long summer and I know all about long summers. You don't want to have any regrets after the season is over."

All told, there are nine Jet regulars (not including recent call-ups Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell) who have never appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs: Little, Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov, Ron Hainsey, Chris Thorburn, Grant Clitsome, Ondrej Pavelec, Toby Enstrom and Zach Bogosian.

Combined, they have appeared in 2,556 regular-season games and not once had a shot at competing for hockey's most-cherished trophy.

"The last two years are the only two years I haven't made the playoffs at any level," said Kane, whose last playoff game came with the Vancouver Giants in 2008-09. "I don't enjoy that. I want to have a shorter summer than I did last year.

"It's nice to be going to the rink when it's sunny out, when it's good weather and it's still light out when you go to the games. I remember playing in junior in the playoffs and going deep into May and June. I haven't had that opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs yet and it's something I definitely want to do this year.

"It's what every hockey-playing kid dreams about."

But dreaming about it and experiencing it, quite clearly, are two different things. And while there remains a quiet confidence in the Jets' camp even after Tuesday's 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, there is also a sense of urgency with the remaining regular-season games now sitting at nine.

"When guys like Andrew and Buff (Dustin Byfuglien, also a Stanley Cup champ) talk about the playoffs, the other guys in the room get excited," said Little. "They know what it takes and they talk about how much fun it is to be in a playoff run.

"This is definitely the toughest time of year. Everyone's got bumps and bruises and you don't want to make it for nothing. You're battling every night so that you can get into the playoffs. And for me, I've never watched the first couple of rounds of the playoffs. And when I do, it's frustrating because you want to be playing."

The other factor potentially at play here for the Jets: overwhelmed by the support they've received from fans in Winnipeg from October through March, they are also intrigued about what the atmosphere might be like with meaningful games being played at the MTS Centre come mid-April.

"Me and a lot of guys in this room have been saying that playoff hockey in Winnipeg could be a pretty special thing," said Kane. "I mean, it's already crazy... I don't know how much crazier it could get, but it would definitely be exciting for the fans and the city.

"And it's something we're going to try to make happen."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

PINING FOR POST-SEASON

A look at Jet players who have yet to suit up for a NHL playoff game:

 

-- ZACH BOGOSIAN

Age: 21

NHL GP: 255; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Peterborough Petes (OHL), 2007-08

-- ALEX BURMISTROV

Age: 20

NHL GP: 141; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Barrie Colts (OHL), 2009-10

-- GRANT CLITSOME

Age: 26

NHL GP: 99; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Syracuse Crunch (AHL), 2007-08

-- TOBIAS ENSTROM

Age: 27

NHL GP: 371; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Modo (Sweden), 2006-07

-- RON HAINSEY

Age: 30

NHL GP: 537; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL), 2004-05

-- EVANDER KANE

Age: 20

NHL GP: 204; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Vancouver Giants (WHL), 2008-09

-- BRYAN LITTLE

Age: 24

NHL GP: 347; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Chicago Wolves (AHL), 2007-08

-- ONDREJ PAVELEC

Age: 24

NHL GP: 180; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Chicago Wolves (AHL), 2007-08

-- CHRIS THORBURN (injured)

Age: 28

NHL GP: 422; Playoffs: 0

Last playoff game: Rochester Americans (AHL), 2004-05

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2012 C1

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