DALLAS -- Another night and another loss for the Winnipeg Jets as their march to another spring of watching playoff hockey on their televisions has moved from a brisk walk to a full-out sprint.
The Jets are plunging and the talk should now be about how far they can sink in order to garner a better selection slot at this summer's NHL draft.
The Jets have just two wins in their last 11 games after falling 2-1 to the Dallas Stars on Monday night. Not exactly the marketing department's dreams of selling a slogan such as "a push to the playoffs."
The playoffs are a myth. A mirage. Not happening. Next-year time is upon us.
Winnipeg is now seven points back of the Phoenix Coyotes and the final wild-card berth with just nine games left on their schedule. Math, and maybe no one or nothing else, says the Jets can still reach the post-season.
The Jets generated very little offence on this night with a lineup missing a number of key players including rookie centre Mark Scheifele and captain Andrew Ladd.
Dallas was able to capitalize on a pair of power plays, with veteran Ray Whitney scoring in the first period and then budding superstar Tyler Seguin getting his 32nd of the season.
The Stars had slipped a bit of late but with the return of No. 1 goalie Kari Lehtonen have now won two in a row and appear to be back in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Jets, on the other hand, have gone cold at entirely the wrong time. Winnipeg made a nice push under coach Paul Maurice, winning 11 of his first 15 games on the job, but have now slid to 13-9-4 under the new boss and 32-32-9 on the season overall. COACH QUOTE
Maurice wore a grim mask after the game and it wasn't about anger but disappointment that his team wasn't rewarded for its effort. In a short time, Maurice has come to feel for and with this group.
"It's tough selling that we do a lot of good things when you feel like this after a loss. Some of the challenges and adversity we've faced, I'm proud of the way we play," Maurice said. "There are some things we feel like we can fix. But they compete. The bench is right. They stay positive and they stay in it right until the end. I have a hard time pointing fault at some of the things you don't like when they compete like this. I'm not sugarcoating it, the final results haven't been good enough for our team. But before you go anywhere, you have to know how to play. We're getting closer to it. We're not there."
Winnipeg's best player and leading scorer Blake Wheeler (24 goals, 35 assists) was pushed into the Stars' open gate in the third period and had to be helped off the ice. Wheeler was moving up the wall when the Stars made a change and the door to the bench was open when Dallas winger Colton Sceviour game him a shove and the big Jets winger's torso crashed into the edge of the boards.
Wheeler immediately hit the ice and was in great pain but did manage to get up on his feet and move off the ice, bent over and holding his side. Wheeler spent a few minutes in the dressing room before returning and taking a shift in the final seconds of the game.
Wheeler was unavailable to the media after the game but Maurice praised him. "You guys just saw him walking around here and you can see the condition he's in," said the coach. "That's the kind of thing a franchise can hang its hat on. Guys that care."
Jets veteran winger Olli Jokinen said the difference between being a playoff team and missing for another year is easy to see in recent games.
"There you go. Really hard to get in with these results. We had a good roll going before the Olympic break but since then it's been a lot of close games and we haven't been able to win those," said Jokinen. "Even if we play .500 hockey we're right there with Phoenix. It's been a tough stretch. We've been losing a lot of one-goal games. We battle hard but the bottom line in this league is the games get tougher in the last 20 when you have to make your push. If you're going to get in, you have to find a way to win the games."
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