TAMPA - The Winnipeg Jets will indeed have Dustin Byfuglien back for their important Southeast Division battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Jets head coach Claude Noel confirmed the news following the morning skate on Thursday.
“It looks like we’re going to be pretty much good to go here with Buff,” said Noel. “That puts us back to where we were before. It will be a welcome addition for us. It kind of stabilizes guys a little bit but in all fairness, he hasn’t played in a little bit so we’ve got to be a little bit patient. But he’ll have enthusiasm.”
Byfuglien has six goals and 24 points in 35 games this season but has missed the past 16 games with a knee injury. His last game was played on Dec. 23 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He kind of makes us go,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “From the be back end, he gets us out of the zone quick, he creates a lot of offence, so to have Buff at the very least creating scoring chances, is huge for our team. On the ice, it’s a huge boost to us and in the locker room, he’s a huge personality for our team. He’s kind of our identity. When Buff goes, we go.”
While the Jets are coming off an impressive 2-1 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, the Lightning are also coming in hot, winners of five consecutive games and have pulled within four points of the Jets in the congested Southeast Division standings.
“These guys are really dangerous and we’re going to have to put together some wins if we’re going to have a chance,” said Jets centre Bryan Little, who had the shootout winner on Tuesday. “You can’t let them frustrate you, they’re a patient team and they take opportunities when teams turn the puck over. We can’t take turn the puck over against these guys because they have a lot of skilled guys that are going to make us pay.”
The Lightning are certainly feeling confident, but they realize there’s plenty of work to be done in order to simply stay in the mix.
“We have a rock-climbers mentality — you don’t look up, you don’t look down. You focus on the rocks in front of you,” said Lightning head coach Guy Boucher. “It’s a dogfight, but at least we haven’t given the other team an open door to walk in. Our starts have been really good the past five games and we’ve been able to build on that first period for a while now.”
Ondrej Pavelec gets the call in goal for the Jets, while the Lightning counter with Mathieu Garon.
Based on the morning skate it looks like Spencer Machacek, Randy Jones and Mark Flood will be the scratches for the Jets.