WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets understand they can’t afford to underestimate the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Although the Lightning have been one of the most active teams leading up to Monday’s NHL trade deadline, they’ve been hot of late, winning three consecutive games to move within five points of the Jets with three games in hand.
“They’re not just a one dimensional group over there, they bring a lot,” said Jets defenceman Randy Jones, who played for the Lightning last season. “They bring speed, they have a lot of skill, they can shoot the puck and they have that offensive touch. They’re playing well and we’re going to have our hands full. We had some lapses in the last game and we need to play a full 60 minutes. When we have letdowns, it shows.
“It’s not as much about our opponents. It’s about us. We know we play well at home. These fans bring out the best in us.”
The Jets have picked up seven of a possible eight points during the past four games and are looking to regroup after Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Obviously, it was a tough way to lose the game, I don’t think anybody was happy about that,” said Jets defenceman Johnny Oduya. “We’ve moved past it and realize we have some games coming up that are really important and we feel we can win all of these games. We need to get back on track tonight.”
The Jets are 18-9-3 at MTS Centre this season, as they hit the midway point of this important eight-game homestand.
Defenceman Zach Bogosian will miss his fifth consecutive game with an upper-body injury and Jets head coach Claude Noel said he was considering going with 11 forwards and seven defence in order to get Mark Flood into the lineup.
However, Flood and winger Eric Fehr were on the ice for extra work after the morning skate, so it looks like Noel might insert Antti Miettinen on the fourth line for Fehr instead.
Ondrej Pavelec gets the call in goal for the Jets, while the Lightning counter with Mathieu Garon.
The Lightning have kept their spirits up of late, despite losing three players off the roster in Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina and Steve Downie.
“It’s been a tough stretch, but we’re just finding a way to battle and win and that’s what we have to do right now,” said Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, who has 42 goals and 70 points in 59 games. “It’s the business side of hockey and you have to be professional about it. It’s not the first time and it’s not going to be the last time that you lose close friends and close teammates, but you have to rally around it, it's brought the team closer together.
“We do realize we’re in position to compete for a playoff spot right now.”
Stamkos made it clear the players are taking responsibility for the slow start that has led to the Lightning being in rebuilding mode.
"We could have played a lot better at the beginning of the year and the onus is on us," said Stamkos. "If we win maybe five-to-seven games at the beginning of the year, we're not in this mode and we're not having this conversation right now. We're probably picking up some players. You have to look at it from both views.
"We lost some great players but at the end of the day you have to trust management, you have no control over what happens. As a player, you go out there and try to win and play your best every night."
The Lightning made another roster move on Thursday, claiming forward Tim Wallace off waivers from the New York Islanders.