Jets need to knock off Capitals

Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec defends the goal against a shot by the Tampa Bay Lightning...

Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec defends the goal against a shot by the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Tampa, Florida Feb. 2, 2012. (REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:13 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The season opener was obviously special, and there’ve been several highlights and significant moments along the way.

But in terms of sheer importance, it’s hard to find a bigger game in this historic season than the one directly in front of the Winnipeg Jets, here, tonight.

If the Jets want to extend their inaugural season into that magical time known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they pretty much need to knock off the Washington Capitals.

“There’s no more important of a game this year than this one,” forward Chris Thorburn said, after a brief, late-morning skate. “They’re all going to be important. But at the same time this is a team that’s just ahead of us, in our division, and obviously that’s a big spot, with third place in the playoffs being on the line.

“It’s crazy. That’s a pretty valuable spot, with home-ice advantage, too. It’s something we feel we’re capable of achieving.”

Here’s how crazy it is: by defeating Florida, Tuesday, the Caps went from being out of a playoff spot to being ranked third, based on their position on top of the Southeast Division.

The Panthers, a point back, plummeted to ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Jets, in 10th, are four behind Washington. Making matters more grim, the Caps have two games in hand.

“This is the biggest game of the year for us, so far,” the Jets Eric Fehr acknowledged. “The guys understand that. We’re obviously on the outside, looking in, right now. There’s a couple teams we’re going to have to leapfrog in the standings, and this is one of them.”

If the Jets want success, they’ll likely need a little more offence than they’ve been getting recently.

Over the last seven games, Winnipeg has scored a meager six goals in regulation time, its only multiple goal outing coming in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Toronto.

One of the players expected to step up in that department is Fehr, who has just one goal in 30 games this season.

The Jets are hoping Fehr finds a little something extra against his old team.

“I’m hoping he has enthusiasm in the game,” head coach Claude Noel said. “I’m hoping he wants some form of maybe redemption or something.”

Fehr spent parts of six seasons in Washington, scoring as many as 21 goals. But his comeback from shoulder surgery in the summer has been anything but smooth in his home province.

“It’s a team game for us tonight,” the Winkler native said, deflecting attention from his own game. “Winnipeg has to beat Washington. That’s the be-all and end-all.”

Despite a flu bug that’s running through the team, the Jets expect everybody who made the trip to play, with the exception of forward Tim Stapleton, who remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

Ondrej Pavelec gets the call in goal.

CAPS WATCH

Veteran Mike Knuble, goalless in his last 27 games, will be a healthy scratch for Washington, Jay Beagle taking his spot on the roster.

Nicklas Backstrom remains out with a concussion.

Tomas Vokoun gets the start in goal.


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