Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The glass is still half full

Fight for playoff lives is teaching the Jets quite a bit Finding a way to win

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For at least a few more days the fans of the Winnipeg Jets will get to revel in the rapture of an NHL playoff race and after 15 years of just staring at the window this must be far more fun.

In all likelihood this will end in disappointment for the Jets and their fans but even if this is just staving off the inevitable it's better than the alternative. No, the longer the Jets stay alive in this hunt the better for the team and its followers.

The closer they get the more they will want it next time around and the more the players can learn about what it takes to cross that border from outsider to insider.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can get a look at his team in the most competitive of light and evaluate who he wants to build around going forward. Coach Claude Noel can continue to work with his players and watch how they react to the strain of these desperate days.

For the players it is these games and these battles that build the bonds needed to win in the extra season. Teams must fight for one another and nothing brings a group together like going through the most intense of moments.

The joy on Tim Stapleton's face and the resulting mob of teammates following his overtime winner on Friday night is a moment to build on. Moments like this bring players together and create strong ties. Ties that eventually result in more wins. Even road wins.

For the fans the longer this lasts the better. Really folks, the playoffs may be the ultimate payoff for all your cheering but this is pretty fantastic in its own right. The effort the Jets put forth on Friday night, climbing back from a 3-0 deficit to win in overtime, was worth the 10 bucks on the cable bill in its own right.

The ups and downs. The second-period despair that turned into overtime ecstasy. The games mean more now than they have all season and that heightens the interest. For a fan this has to be incredible. Short only of a playoff win.

And as great as the atmosphere has been in Winnipeg the last couple of weeks it will be torqued a few more degrees this Monday when the Jets host the Ottawa Senators. With just three home games remaining on the schedule Winnipeg fans are now guaranteed that at least two of those three matches will be meaningful. For a fan base that's favourable. Oh, yes, the playoffs would be better but one step at a time.

This time last year, remember, this city didn't have a horse in the race. A year later and Winnipeg is in the backstretch still with a chance to run for the roses.

All this glass-half-full optimism doesn't belie the fact the Jets are four points back of a playoff spot with just nine games remaining. Really, with just 12 wins on the road this season, there's a strong case to be made the Jets don't deserve to be a playoff team.

But that's a story for another day when the Jets no longer have playoff life. That can't be said just yet so let Jets fans have their moment. They waited long enough for it.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2012 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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