Do-or-die for bubble Jets players

Winnipegger Derek Meech (right) managed a smile and said ‘No pressure,’ when talking about the...

Winnipegger Derek Meech (right) managed a smile and said ‘No pressure,’ when talking about the importance of the Jets’ final two pre-season games. (MATT SULLIVAN/Reuters file photo)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:08 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The task is laid out, bare and simple, for those who would be Winnipeg Jets.

They’re down to their last chance. Maybe two.

The wheat has been separated from the chaff. But are they No. 1, or a lesser grade?

Two games to separate themselves.

Daunting? Sure it is.

How about this: two games to earn a spot on your hometown team.

The alternative, a ticket to St. John’s.

“That’s right, yeah,” Winnipeg-born Derek Meech said, Tuesday, managing a smile. “No pressure.”

Nah, none at all.

At least, that’s how Meech looks at it. You’d have to.

Or it’d drive you around the bend.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling, actually,” the 27-year-old said, having survived Tuesday’s major bloodletting, which saw 20 would-be teammates airlifted to the farm. “A lot of people say there’s a lot of pressure. I look at it more as a challenge. This is just the nature of the game. There’s a ton of good hockey players in the league. You’ve got to be prepared, you’ve got to be consistent.”

Meech believes he’s taken care of the former, and hopes to show the latter, Wednesday night, in what will be his first test before the hometown crowd — and all the wildness that entails.

The former Detroit Red Wing was part of the split squad that went to Columbus for the pre-season opener.

The temptation, with family and friends among the din, will be to do more than normal, push the envelope.

In the make-a-mistake-and-you-pay world of the NHL, that’s generally career suicide.

“That’s what I’ve been focusing on a lot, here,” Meech said. “Not overly pushing things, just settling in and trying to be smooth and making the right plays.

“It’s going to be a real challenge, coming off the road, a long trip to Nashville and then St. John’s and back here. It’s going to be a body thing, but also a mental thing. You’ve got to make sure you’re sharp.”

You don’t have to be a local boy to know what’s at stake against Carolina, Wednesday, the Nashville Predators, Friday.

You think a ticket to the Oct. 9 opener against Montreal is hot?

A seat on the bench, in full equipment, if it were scalpable, would put you in the poor house.

“Words can’t really describe it,” is how defenceman Paul Postma, a product of Red Deer, put it. “It’s going to be absolutely insane. I want to be here so bad for that. It’s going to be an amazing night.

“It’s really make or break, these last two. They’re going to be fun games. They’re going to be intense. Teams are basically down to almost their full rosters.”

“Almost,” being the key word.

At times like this, you’re tempted to scrutinize the coach or GM for clues.

Putting Claude Noel under the interrogation lamp produces a little, where Meech is concerned.

“It looks like a smart signing for us,” the coach said. “Where he lands, he’ll show us. He looks like an NHL player. Can he be an every day, top-six? He’s still young and looks good. We’re happy with what we’ve got.”

Read into that what you will.

The cold, hard truth: with 10 defencemen still in camp, at least two, maybe three, will have to go.

Meech and Postma, playing similar, offensive styles, can’t both stay, can they?

Postma, not on Wednesday’s roster, likely has the agonizing chore of waiting for Friday to get his last chance.

If you’ve made it this far, you can play.

Fairly or not, however, one more game, maybe two, will determine where you play.

“They’re life and death,” fellow blueliner Brett Festerling said, clearly not concerned with overstating things. “Hopefully you get in one. I’d like to be in both. That means you’re down to the wire.”

They already are.


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