Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stop me if you've heard this before

'It's crunch time' 'Our team cares' 'Our biggest test'

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It's not that far back to March 27, when the Winnipeg Jets, fresh off a 4-1 victory in Carolina, were six points clear in the NHL's Southeast Division lead and rumbling along the Eastern Conference road in better shape and with more hope than many of their rivals.

Ten days has made quite a difference.

The Jets lost their next five in a row -- ending a taxing stretch of five out of six away from home -- come to today's matinee at the MTS Centre against the Philadelphia Flyers with their cushion pulled out from under them and almost no room for error.

"Obviously, it's pretty much the same guys in the room," Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian said after Friday's optional practice. "It's crunch time right now. We've got to come together. We just have to make sure we're not the team we were the last five games."

The Jets have actually lost seven of the last nine if you go back and include their troubling double home loss to the Washington Capitals.

That followed a stretch of 10-3-1, which made it seem that the team would not have that difficult a road to the playoffs.

Now, to reach 52 points -- and some think that's no guarantee of a spot -- Winnipeg would need 14 points from the last nine games, seven of which are at home starting today.

"You're aware of that but it's not something we really set a number to," defenceman Mark Stuart said Friday. "We need to keep it simpler than that.

"It can roll the other way just as easily."

Any number of feelings and reactions are in play to the team's current struggles that have taken them from atop the Southeast Division to the 10th seed in the East entering today's play.

"I know one thing; our team cares where we're at," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "Our team is concerned with how we're playing. They're trying to do just like the coaches and management, trying to get it back on track. I don't think motivation is a real issue.

"The only thing to do is to do it as a group."

Noel was asked about the difference in his team from just two or three weeks back.

"We proved we were able to win games 1-0, 2-1, 3-1, whatever the score when we were good as a group," he said. "What happens as a group is that you get tugging on different strings for different reasons. Some frustration comes in.

"So you have to try to get a grasp on that and control that the best you can. Easy to say but not an easy task. I still like our team. I'm just trying get the focus in the right direction."

With the Flyers on the upswing, 5-3-2 in the last 10 and now just one point behind the Jets in the standings, today's game is unlikely to find the visitors lethargic or without hope.

The Jets say they are expecting the usual pushy version of the Flyers.

"They are always, always a physical team, a team that's hard to play against," Stuart said. "They've always been that way. We just need to match it and a good start is huge for us."

Bogosian said an emotional game could be good for his team.

"Obviously you've got to stay out of the penalty box as far as taking dumb penalties but we're not a team that expects to get pushed around," he said.

But centre Bryan Little doesn't want his team painted as angry right now.

"I wouldn't say we're angry," he said. "Some frustration has leaked in. This is our biggest test of the season. If we can get out of this it'll probably determine if we're going to make the playoffs or not. There's only nine games left and we know what's on the line."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

DOWN TO THE WIRE

What's left for teams in the Southeast Division:

WINNIPEG JETS

Record: 18-19-2, 38 pts; second in Southeast; 10th in Eastern Conference

SportsClubStats.com playoff chances: 21.4 per cent

Remaining games: 9

Road (2): Buffalo, Washington

Home (7): Philadelphia, Buffalo, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, New York Islanders, Montreal.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Record: 18-17-2, 38 pts; first in Southeast; third in Eastern Conference

SportsClubStats.com playoff chances: 55.3 per cent

Remaining games: 11

Road (4); Florida, Montreal, 2, Ottawa.

Home (7): Tampa Bay, 2, Carolina, Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Boston.

CAROLINA HURRICANES

Record: 16-18-2, 34 pts; third in Southeast; 12th in the Eastern Conference.

SportsClubStats.com playoff chances: 10.3 per cent

Remaining games: 12

Road (6): Boston, Washington, Ottawa, Winnipeg; Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh.

Home (6): New York Rangers, 2, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, New York Islanders.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 A1

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