VANCOUVER -- Small things make a big difference at this time of the season.

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VANCOUVER -- Small things make a big difference at this time of the season.

One of the greatest improvements in the Winnipeg Jets this season is they've clued into this law of the NHL season and adjusted accordingly.

Tuesday at Rogers Arena, the Jets were burned by a small thing at an inopportune time and it turned out to be a major difference in dropping a 5-2 decision to the Vancouver Canucks in a key Western Conference match-up.

It ended Winnipeg's five-game winning streak.

The Jets had staked themselves to a 2-0 lead on goals by Jiri Tlusty and Blake Wheeler but were in a 2-2 game with just more than a minute remaining in the second period, the Jets lost track of the puck in their own zone near the right-wing boards.

It popped free behind where defencemen Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers were positioned and Canucks' sniper Radim Vrbata took his clear path to the net and deposited what turned out to be the winning goal at 19:00 of the period.

It was a fairly minor lapse as blunders go but it turns up the pressure on the Jets to make the playoffs.

On a poor sheet of ice and without their best lineup, the visitors pushed but were unable to get the game squared in the third period. Henrik Sedin and Vrbata had the empty-netters to help the reeling Canucks put a tight game to bed.

Now with just eight games remaining in the regular season, Winnipeg does hold the conference's final wildcard playoff berth by two points over Calgary and the Los Angeles Kings, 88 to 86 each.

The Jets were the only one of the group to stumble on Tuesday and the chasers, however, have a game in hand.

Tuesday, the Kings and Minnesota Wild, now three points ahead of the Jets, each won their road games. And the Canucks scored another huge win to move to 90 points and two ahead of Winnipeg, also with one fewer game played.

The Jets, now 38-24-12, start a four-game homestand -- shall we say important? -- Thursday night against Montreal.

 

2 games, 2 days, too bad

The Jets had been 3-1-3 on the second night of back-to-back games this season, a marked improvement on their performance of the recent past.

They looked to have plenty of energy, especially if you considered how they dominated the early part of the second period and the consecutive shifts that resulted in the 2-0 goal by Wheeler.

But the Canucks responded nearly six minutes later and soared from there with three goals before the end of the middle period, including an impressive power-play conversion.

 

Hutch returns

Jets coach Paul Maurice sent goalie Michael Hutchinson for the start for the first time in six games.

Hutchinson, now 20-10-5, had not been confined to the bench for five straight games until this stretch.

He last started and played when he lost 3-2 in Florida on March 12. It was close, but Hutchinson's opponent, Eddie Lack, outplayed him on Tuesday night, making key stops on Michael Frolik and Mark Scheifele in the final three minutes.

 

Wheeler caged

Wheeler suited up for the Jets Tuesday night.

That's not really news, given that he's missed just two games this season and played every game in the previous two years.

After taking a puck to the mouth during the first period Monday in Edmonton, it took the team's medical staff until the third period to repair what they could and clear Wheeler to return to that 4-1 victory over the Oilers.

"He's a leader in our room and something that guys really gravitate towards is his ability to play through pain," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd.

Wheeler wore a full cage on his helmet on Tuesday night.

 

One of these days

Is Thursday against Montreal the night for a return by Dustin Byfuglien or Jets No. 1 centre Bryan Little?

The Jets meet the Habs that night to start a four-game homestand.

Both players, along with left-winger Mathieu Perreault and defenceman Ben Chiarot, have been practising this week, sometimes with the regulars when they have skated.

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca