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'Why not us?' Yes indeed

Numbers answer the question about Jets' playoff chances

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The Winnipeg Jets' recent successes have gotten people talking about the playoffs, but the odds are still against it.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

The Winnipeg Jets' recent successes have gotten people talking about the playoffs, but the odds are still against it. Photo Store

The first use of the term by a member of the Winnipeg Jets unofficially came just over a week ago when the team touched down in California for a pair of bouts with two of the National Hockey League's heavyweights.

Fresh from three straight wins under new head coach Paul Maurice -- and waltzing into the Honda Center, where the Anaheim Ducks had yet to lose a game in regulation -- winger Michael Frolik was asked about the monumental task immediately ahead.

His response, to paraphrase, might just be the perfect Jets mantra going forward:

"Why not us?"

Look, the easy angle to take here with the Jets' recent surge -- a 6-1 run under Maurice that includes Sunday night's victory in Chicago over the Blackhawks -- would be to play the cynic and stroll into this feel-good party the club and their faithful have going on right now and start popping balloons with a size-large needle.

After all, the math here remains daunting. Even with their latest streak, the Jets remain seven points back of the Minnesota Wild for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, with two other clubs in between -- the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars, both with two games in hand.

Sportsclubstats.com calculates playoff chances daily and the Jets, currently at just 8.3 per cent, would need to get to 93 points just to give themselves a 57.6 per cent shot at a post-season berth.

That means the Jets would have to come up with 38 points in their final 28 games -- about 10 games over .500 -- playing at a .679 winning percentage.

Long shot? Heck, some might say Steven Seagal has a better chance at uttering the words "I'd like to thank the Academy for this best-actor award" than the Jets going on that kind of run.

But if you ask the men in the room these days, you'll hear more and more of the "why not us?" refrain. That has to be their approach, of course, but it does speak of a growing confidence and how the coaching change has rattled this crew to life. Maurice's tweakings aren't said to be dramatic, but six wins in seven games does help him deliver his message.

All of that can be contagious.

"The biggest difference for me is just our emotion level," Bryan Little said after Saturday's win over Toronto, a game in which the Jets coughed up a 4-1 lead before winning 5-4 in overtime. "Earlier in the year, if they would have creeped back in the game like that, our guys would have got frustrated. Guys would have started yelling or gotten mad at each other.

"Right now, this team has a lot of confidence and everyone is committed to staying positive the whole game."

That can't be overemphasized, even if these teasing stretches have been seen before by this group. The Jets went on a four-game win streak from Nov. 8-15, but were 0-2-2 in their next four. Prior to the five-game skid that cost Noel his job, the Jets had reeled off three consecutive W's.

Those flirtations with success aren't limited to just this season either, and have rightfully earned the club their "consistently inconsistent" tag.

More examples:

-- The Jets' 10-3-1 in December 2011, the best month in franchise history, was followed by a 4-8-1 January.

-- A 6-1-1 run from March 7-19 last season had the Jets atop the Southeast Division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. That was followed by 4-0 and 6-1 home-ice losses to Washington as the club went 8-9-1 to the finish line and missed the post-season.

So as much as the Jets' recent stretch has been an eye-opener, the team and its fans have ridden this wave before, only to be rag-dolled by the next one.

The short-term evidence the coaching switch is changing things -- this "why not us?" approach -- is encouraging. But it's where this bunch finishes in the standings on April 11 that really matters.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2014 C3

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