Back surgery could sideline Dmitry Kulikov for the rest of the NHL season.

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This article was published 17/3/2018 (1319 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Back surgery could sideline Dmitry Kulikov for the rest of the NHL season.

The Winnipeg Jets defence will go under the knife relatively soon and will be lost to the Central Division squad for a minimum of eight weeks.

The aggravation of an injury that plagued him last season in Buffalo occurred innocently enough -- he strained something March 8 in New Jersey after he rifled a point shot on Devils goalie Cory Schneider.

Even if the Winnipeg Jets go deep into the playoffs, it seems unlikely the 27-year-old Russian-born blue-liner returns to the lineup -- although head coach Paul Maurice didn't go that far in providing the news Saturday.

"It's tough for him, very difficult in that he's been through it (before)," said Maurice. "He's happy here, he's got a role here, it's something that he wants to be a part of. But the door's not closed. He has to get back and get healthy. This is a tough rehab because you don't do much early on and then you get after it pretty good.

"Hopefully, we're still playing hockey when he's ready to play."

Kulikov played just 47 games during the 2016-17 after suffering a freak injury during a preseason game. Playing against Toronto, Kulikov was checked into an open bench door and suffered a deep back bruise that ached for much of the season, forced him out of the lineup three times.

The Jets inked the 26-year-old, left-shooting defenceman last summer to a three-year, US$13-million contract as a way to solidify a defensive unit that includes right-shooters Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, and Josh Morrissey, Toby Enstrom and Ben Chiarot on the left side.

After a shaky first few weeks with the Jets he elevated his level of play alongside Myers, and the pairing has been effective this season.

Chiarot, who has demonstrated more of a nasty side in recent weeks, will see plenty of action during the intense stretch run to the playoffs.

"I talk to (the coaching staff) quite a bit and the way I'm playing, physical and getting up on the play, is when I'm most effective and how I'm most important for the team," said Chiarot. "They want to keep seeing that element of my game and it's the way I've always played, so I'll keep that rolling."

Winnipeg has a firm grip on second place in the division, while teams set to arrive at Bell MTS Place over the next 10 days such as the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are battling to stay in the race in the Western Conference.

"As you get closer to the playoffs, teams are fighting for their lives, they're desperate," said Chiarot. "If you don't match that intensity, they can walk away with the game. I think it's good for us going into the playoffs to play that kind of hockey."

***

Eric Comrie says he's eager to be a part of a thrilling run to the playoffs, his first as a pro.

That was to have occurred with the Manitoba Moose, but circumstances have changed.

Comrie was promoted earlier in the week from the American Hockey League and will back up Jets' No.1 masked man Connor Hellebuyck for the forseeable future.

Steve Mason (knee) and Michael Hutchinson (concussion) remained sidelined, opening the door for the 22-year-old from Edmonton.

"It's really exciting here during this run as we try and make the playoffs. It's been great to see the competitiveness of the guys and their attitudes toward the games. It's been an amazing experience for myself," said Comrie.

"As a hockey player, you envision scenarios like this all the time, you see yourself playing for the Stanley Cup, lifting the Stanley Cup, at the end of the year. I'm just thankful for the opportunity to help get us there. It's something you look forward to your whole life."

Comrie was having a solid season with the Moose, registering a 17-11-3 record with 2.56 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

There's no timetable on Hutchinson's return, while Mason won't rejoin the squad until sometime in early April, said Maurice.

He said he's very high on the young puckstopper and won't have any reservations about giving him some starts. Just a few days ago, the Winnipeg bench boss hinted he'd like to rest Hellebuyck for three or four games as the regular season winds down.

The Jets (42-19-10) have 11 contests left -- five more the current home stand, a four-game trip with stops in Chicago, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, and a pair back home against Calgary and Chicago.

"From Day 1 (Comrie) would qualify as the most positive person you may have met that day. He's willing to work as long as you want, always says the right things, does the right things, competes really hard. He's a wonderful pro athlete, (has) personality, and that translates into his game," said Maurice.

"He's going to grind and work and work until he gets what he wants, and that's a job in the NHL."

In Comrie's absence, Jamie Phillips will get the bulk of work between the pipes for Manitoba.

"It's weird to think how things have gone. I'm cheering for them every single time they play," said Comrie. "Jamie's an older guy. He knows what to do, he's always been with every opportunity he's been given and I have all the confidence in the world in him."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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