The Winnipeg Jets entered Tuesday's NHL action in sole possession of the first wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, which, frankly, qualifies as a minor miracle.

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This article was published 10/3/2020 (360 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets entered Tuesday's NHL action in sole possession of the first wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, which, frankly, qualifies as a minor miracle.

Winnipeg's grip on that spot remains tenuous with five teams — including Minnesota, Vancouver, Nashville and Arizona — all battling for two wild-card positions and all within four points of each other.

Despite a season filled with roster turmoil and injuries, there seems to be a rising a level of confidence with the Jets as they take a three-game winning streak on the road to Edmonton for Wednesday's showdown with the Oilers.

But that feeling wasn't always there. Veteran forward Andrew Copp was asked to describe his level of conviction early in the regular season.

"Honestly, second game when we were down 4-0 (midway through the second period) in Jersey, I was looking around like, 'Holy cow, what's going on here?'" said Copp following an optional workout at Bell MTS Place Tuesday morning. "And ever since then, that win in Pittsburgh Game 4, I think (defenceman Josh Morrissey) was out and (centre Bryan Little) still out, that was the time where I was like, 'All right, we're going to be just fine.'

"And I come to the rink thinking that we're going to win every game."

The Jets, reeling from the off-season trade of Jacob Trouba, free-agent departures of Brandon Tanev, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers and a training camp no-show of Dustin Byfuglien, rallied to beat the Devils 5-4 in a shootout on Oct. 4.

Captain Blake Wheeler said the roster upheaval has made his team bolder, setting the stage for improvements that can be exploited during the 12 remaining regular-season games.

"We had a young group and we weren’t really sure what we had," said Wheeler. "What to really expect is always different with a new season. I think our group really fought together and that’s been kind of our rallying cry. Obviously, some different circumstances in training camp. Losing some big pieces to our team has kinda forced us to rally around each other and play a certain way."

The Jets may also finally have the bodies to bring more energy to their games.

Forwards Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault have both recently returned from injury while trade acquisitions defenceman Dylan DeMelo and centre Cody Eakin have had a positive impact.

On Tuesday, Maurice was pleased to report no new injuries after Monday's 4-2 win over the visiting Coyotes.

"I think we're better rested," said Maurice. "I think that's where most of the good feeling (comes). Prior to the (all-star) break we didn't have a lot of energy. But we played really hard in our last two games. The Boston game out of the break was the one that bothered you. A little like the Edmonton loss.

"But that Boston game, we'd lost four in a row, had a break, and played great and lose. You're wondering how long, cause you're barkin' at 'em to play harder. Just a whole lot harder. And then we started to get a payoff. Beat St. Louis. Overtime loss to Nashville but a really well-done game. To win in St. Louis."

Wheeler wasn't interested in playoff speculation, preferring to focus on a more immediate task.

"I think we’re worried about playing Edmonton," said Wheeler. "So, you know, whether we ultimately make the playoffs or not the fact that our group has given us an opportunity — we take a lot of pride in that.

"Quite honestly, even without losing Buff and Bryan Little before the season it was going to be a really tough challenge for us to have a chance to get into the playoffs. And you lose two of your best players throughout the season, we really shouldn’t be where we’re at so there’s a lot to be said for being in this position." 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
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Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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