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The push begins in earnest

Jets ready for toughest part of holding a playoff spot -- keeping it

trevor hagan / the canadian press files
Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault, seen celebrating his second of four goals against the Florida Panthers Jan. 13, said the Jets are excited to get back at the season and finish what they�ve started.

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trevor hagan / the canadian press files Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault, seen celebrating his second of four goals against the Florida Panthers Jan. 13, said the Jets are excited to get back at the season and finish what they�ve started.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2015 (1484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PITTSBURGH -- It's not anything measurable. There are no numbers to punch into a formula that spits out hard-core data to represent collective confidence or swagger.

And so the Winnipeg Jets who returned to the ice Monday afternoon at the Iceoplex in Southpointe, a Pittsburgh suburb, didn't look a whole lot different than the crew that had reeled off five consecutive wins before the NHL All-Star break.

Oh sure, a few of the boys had the glow that comes from a few days in the hot sun. Defenceman Jay Harrison dumped his beard sometime after he took his family up to Riding Mountain National Park. And centre Mark Scheifele was still beaming from watching his girlfriend, Dara Howell, win a bronze medal in the ski slopestyle event at the X Games in Aspen.

What remains is that 'expect, not hope to win' vibe that has been percolating all season. And that's important as this team prepares for the meat grinder of the schedule.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2015 (1484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PITTSBURGH — It's not anything measurable. There are no numbers to punch into a formula that spits out hard-core data to represent collective confidence or swagger.

And so the Winnipeg Jets who returned to the ice Monday afternoon at the Iceoplex in Southpointe, a Pittsburgh suburb, didn't look a whole lot different than the crew that had reeled off five consecutive wins before the NHL All-Star break.

Oh sure, a few of the boys had the glow that comes from a few days in the hot sun. Defenceman Jay Harrison dumped his beard sometime after he took his family up to Riding Mountain National Park. And centre Mark Scheifele was still beaming from watching his girlfriend, Dara Howell, win a bronze medal in the ski slopestyle event at the X Games in Aspen.

'This is the way we play. We've played that way all year and we're very excited for this end of the season'— Jets forward Mathieu Perreault

What remains is that 'expect, not hope to win' vibe that has been percolating all season. And that's important as this team prepares for the meat grinder of the schedule.

"Good break. We needed it," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "With the stretch of games that we had, our medical room was starting to fill up on the things that can really heal up with two or three days. So that was a well-timed break for us.

"There is an excitement here, I feel it, to get back on this big push. There's no more breaks and the hockey changes gears now. It's the hardest played of the regular season."

The Jets have 34 games remaining and, with 60 points in the bank, there's a belief that going .500 down the stretch — winning 17 games — should put them close to the playoff line. Again, though, they want more. There is a sense they aren't just peeking over their shoulder at the pack behind them, but instead looking at taking down the squads ahead of them.

And, man oh man, doesn't that ever represent growth from this time last winter.

"This rest was good to get away from it," said Mathieu Perreault, who was back on the ice for the first time since the gruesome cross-check from Daniel Carcillo on Jan. 16. "The guys were actually excited today to come to the rink and get back on the ice. The mood in the room and on the ice today was really good. It's going to be great for the group.

"The way we've been playing lately we've had a lot of hard hockey, tough hockey to play and this rest was good.

"There's a lot of teams fighting just to get into the playoffs. Usually, this last bit of the season is a lot of hard intensity but it's good for us. This is the way we play. We've played that way all year and we're very excited for this end of the season."

The Jets hold down the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference — seven points ahead of the Calgary Flames. But they are also just five back of the Nashville Predators, who are first in the Central Division, and two back of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

All of those division rivals have games in hand, but the last 34 games of the regular season also include eight head-to-head matchups against the teams in their crosshairs (four with the Blues; two each with the Hawks and Preds).

"We've all had the playoffs in our minds," said Scheifele. "Everyone wants to make the playoffs and being there and having a spot right now, we don't want to lose it. We want to continue to press to even raise the standings even more. We've got to continue to play our game, stick to our strategy each and every night and play it for a full 60 minutes.

"It's just the way our team has prepared this year. We prepared in the summer all the way up until this point. And with that confidence, you keep an even keel. You don't ever get too high, you don't ever get too low."

A tad cliché? Sure. But the Jets have also learned this: The view from the crest of the wave lately is a heckuva lot more scenic than splashing around and inhaling sea water from the bottom of it.

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

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