December 11, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Somewhere right now -- perhaps in a classroom overflowing with mathematicians decked out in white lab coats -- some of the brightest minds on the planet are writing formulas to determine the percentages of NHL teams chasing a playoff spot.
Here's a simple formula for Winnipeg Jets fans: Win and they're in for the first time in their River City reincarnation and for the first time since 2007.
And now it gets very real: Of the remaining four games on the Jets' schedule two -- today against the New York Islanders and Tuesday in Washington against the Capitals -- come against teams directly in their crosshairs.
"It's a game we've been waiting for," said Bryan Little. "We're winning games, we're watching the scores and the teams we are chasing are winning games, too. It's finally nice to play a team that we're chasing. We've been waiting to play one of these teams and now we finally get our chance."
The Jets trail the Islanders -- seventh in the Eastern Conference -- by three points and are just two back of the Southeast Division-leading Caps.
Both the Isles and Caps are among the NHL's hottest heading down the backstretch. New York has won two straight and is 7-1-2 in its last 10; Washington had an eight-game win streak snapped by Ottawa on Thursday but is 8-1-1 in its last 10.
The Islanders thoroughly dominated the Jets earlier this month on Long Island in a 5-2 win on April 2.
"I like the way they play," said Jets coach Claude Noel of the Isles after Friday's practice. "I really like the way they play. They got a team with speed, skill and they're smart... They're going to test some areas in our game."
The Jets are 5-1 since that meeting, however, and in their current five-game home winning streak have re-established the mojo they had last season at the MTS Centre. This is Winnipeg's second-last regular-season home contest, with the Montreal Canadiens here for the finale on April 25. The Jets want to make sure that isn't their last home game this season.
"We're playing a lot better now," said Little. "We've got that confidence back and we're scoring goals. That (the Islander loss) was at a very low point in our season when we weren't playing that well."
The Jets are pointing to the current six-game homestand as critical in helping them recharge. But what has also been evident of late is real growth, demonstrated by their ability to twice shake off blowing 3-1 third-period leads this week to emerge with monumental wins.
"You can call it growth, if you want," said Andrew Ladd. "But I think it's also desperation and understanding the importance of those two points. When you're in that position, you need to find a way to win."
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Coach Claude's crackerjack juggling act
SHUFFLING THE 'D': The Jets made some significant shifts to their defensive pairings in Thursday's win over Carolina, as Zach Bogosian finished with Grant Clitsome and Dustin Byfuglien was teamed with Ron Hainsey. Those pairings, along with Mark Stuart-Paul Postma, remained intact at practice on Friday.
"When you coach you do things to help you win," said coach Claude Noel. "I juggle lines, I juggle people, I take some in, some out. You do things for the only reason there is: to help you win. Whatever that means.
"It's the same thing with my philosophy on whether you keep the lineup the same because you're winning. Not really. People might think that, but if I feel that we would win against the Islanders with three new players and I have three players I think would help us win I'll put them in. It's the same thing. You do the same things for the same results. How you get there doesn't matter. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't."
KANE IS ABLE: LW Evander Kane did not participate in Friday's practice, but Noel said it was just for "maintenance" reasons and he should be good to go against the Isles.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 C11