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Teetering Jets now enter the land of giants

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The gloom and doom, the potholes and pessimism, those are the easy parts when looking at the five-game road trip that will boost or break the Winnipeg Jets in the next week.

First it's south, tonight at American Airlines Arena against the Dallas Stars. Then it's west to the land of giants -- San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim -- before a final stop in Phoenix.

Titanic tasks

  • Monday: at Dallas, 33-26-11, 4 points ahead, 9th in West
  • Thursday: at San Jose, 46-18-8, 27 points ahead, 2nd in West
  • Saturday: at Los Angeles, 40-25-6, 13 points ahead, 6th in West
  • Monday: at Anaheim, 45-18-7, 24 points ahead, 3rd in West
  • Tuesday: at Phoenix, 34-26-11, 6 points ahead, 8th in West

 

Jets: 32-31-9, 73 points, 11th in West

All games are against teams ahead of the Jets in the Western Conference standings. The points deficit ranges from 27 (San Jose) to four (tonight in Dallas) with the average being nearly 15 points in arrears.

"I see an exciting trip for us, an exciting stretch for us where we can make some things happen," said veteran Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. "It'll be a big challenge, a lot of good teams, but concentrating on Dallas, first of all. What an opportunity in that game.

"So we're preparing for that one, excited about that one.

So, running out of games -- just 10 left now -- the picture becomes more black-and-white every day. By the end of the trip, it's conceivable that it's lights-out on the season, another chance for a playoff spot gone.

Surely, the Jets have maybe one loss to work with on this excursion if they wish to keep in touch with the pack.

But the dreamers, like Stuart, like to see the possibilities. They imagine what the standings could look like in a week's time with wins on the bookends of this trip, and a couple more in California.

It will take most or all of that to close the gap on the eighth-place Coyotes, or at least make next Tuesday's game meaningful in some way.

And the starting point isn't exactly full of gung-ho.

Saturday, the Jets had enough opportunities to win two games, but ran up against a hot Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes and fell 3-2. Winnipeg remained stuck on 73 points.

"I think we have to move on now, put that game behind," said centre Olli Jokinen while some of his teammates engaged in an option practice Sunday at the MTS Iceplex. "It's the message from the coach that we did a lot of good things but it's about winning games and we could be here all day and analyze all the chances we had and why we didn't score and what happened.

"We've got to learn from it and move on. There's a big game tomorrow. We have to get ready for that one."

The Jets, Jokinen said, don't need to be told about the difficult road trip that starts today. He said Sunday the team has one thought.

"Just tomorrow," he said. "You can't look too far ahead. Just tomorrow, to have that right mindset going in.

"We're chasing three teams. Dallas is looking up and trying to catch one team (Phoenix). I think all the pressure's on them. We're going in their building so they'll be jacked up and we'll have to be ready to battle and play good defence, then capitalize on our chances against them."

Since Paul Maurice took over as Jets coach in January, the team has played in 17 one-goal games, including those which had an empty-net marker.

In all, Winnipeg has played 40 one-goal games this season (18-13-9) so closeness, one way or the other, hasn't unnerved the team, Maurice said.

"(Saturday) is pretty similar to the losses we've had," he said.

And Maurice ruled out of hand the thought the more dire the picture becomes for the Jets, the more difficult it will be to extract a top-level effort from his group.

"It's a learning process for this group and they need to learn how to handle these days."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2014 C3

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