January 29, 2012
Jets have steep mountain to climbThey can make formidable climb to reach the playoffs, as long as they don’t look down
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - “This time, lord, you gave me a mountain. A mountain that I may never climb.”
From, You Gave Me A Mountain Marty Robbins wrote the song, Elvis made it famous.
Over the next nine weeks, the Winnipeg Jets will live it.
As they strap on their climbing gear, the Jets, to a man, probably believe they can scale what’s before them and reach the summit.
The goal: a perch in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Is it realistic?
Drill down into the remainder of the NHL schedule — the team has 32 games to go, beginning Tuesday, in Philadelphia — and that hope hits hardpan.
Oh, it’s possible.
But it’s going to take a lot more pluck than the Jets have shown through 50 games, including another high-wire act at home and a few dramatic rescues in two areas the Jets have so far had their struggles: on the road, and in the second of back-to-back games.
Right now, the team holding down the eighth and final playoff spot in the NHL East is New Jersey. With 55 points in 48 games, the Devils are on pace for 94 points.
Assuming a similar pace for the East the rest of the way, we’ve pegged 95 points as the goal, which happens to be the flag head coach Claude Noel shoved into the ground going into the season.
The Jets, currently in 10th, have recorded an average of a point a game, to date: 50 in 50.
If they want to hit 95, they’ll need 45 points in the next 32 games.
The math, of course, is the easy part.
The record the Jets need — how does 21-8-3 sound? — will be anything but.
We’ve put together a scenario that has the Jets winning games against lower teams, upsetting a couple of good ones, at least at home, and finishing with a late-season tear to get in.
It’s obviously not the only path up this mountain, but it provides an idea of the steepness of the slope ahead.
We’ve conceded losses in frightening places like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Nashville.
But we’re taking wins in Tampa (twice), Montreal, Minnesota and Florida.
Home cooking is going to have to pay off, too, just like it did in December. We’re pegging a 13-3 home record the rest of the way, including five wins in a row at home, from Feb. 23 to March 5.
We’re allowing for home losses to Boston, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, but that’s it.
When playoff wannabes like Florida and Washington come to town, the Jets have to be perfect. One slip-up, and they’ll have to make up for it by upsetting one of the NHL’s big dogs.
But that’s just the beginning.
Our 95-point scenario has the Jets a lofty 8-5-3 on the road, a far cry from the 7-14-4 ledge they’ve teetered on until now.
Like we said, this journey is not for the faint of heart.
And you know that frightful habit the Jets have when they play two games in two nights?
It’s gotta stop.
What better time and place than March 9, in Calgary, rebounding from a loss in Vancouver by beating the lowly Flames?
A win there would be so freeing, it would be like shedding a 50-pound backpack for the rest of the climb, setting the Jets up for the nail-biting final push.
By the time they reach must-win, back-to-backs at the end of March, in Carolina and Tampa, the Jets will know they can do it.
And they’ll ride the momentum to five straight wins to close out the regular season, four of them on the road, leaving seven Eastern Conference foes looking up in bewilderment, wondering what just happened.
At least, that’s the plan.
Godspeed, Winnipeg Jets.
And whatever you do, don’t look down.