Mediocre won't do for Jets

Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel talks with players Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood on the bench...

Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel talks with players Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood on the bench against the St. Louis Blues during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Winnipeg Feb. 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Fred Greenslade)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:44 PM ET

Iím starting to think Jim Cuddy was right.

The front man for Blue Rodeo was in town playing a solo show a couple weeks back, and midway through his set he was talking hockey.

ďYou guys know itís going to come down to the Leafs and the Jets for that last playoff spot, donít you?Ē Cuddy, an unabashed Toronto supporter, told the crowd at the Playhouse Theatre.

At the time, no, we didnít know. In fact, there were those who began thinking the Jets had a shot at first place in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the NHLís Eastern Conference.

Well, itís probably time to put that delusion to rest.

The Jets have simply let too many attainable points slip through their mitts lately, the most recent pair against the lowly Edmonton Oilers, Monday.

If youíre scoring at home, without the rose-coloured glasses that show the Jets on a 4-1-2 ďroll,Ē youíll know this team has won just one of its last four games.

Coupled with overtime and shootout losses, the Jets have already let four home-cooked points get away on this critical home stand, with six of eight games in the books.

Thatís been just mediocre enough to fall behind Florida, which has a fistful of games in hand.

The more realistic goal is to grab that eighth and final spot, fending off the likes of the up-and-down Washington Capitals and, yes, the Leafs.

The task begins this Thursday when Florida pays a visit in a game head coach Claude Noel isnít being shy about.

Addressing the media from his pulpit in the bowels of the downtown arena Tuesday, Noel preached about the Panthers game like it might represent life and death, itself.

ďThat game against Florida, everythingís gotta be poured into that game,Ē the coach said. ďWe can leave nothing on the table in that game.Ē

It wonít be long before somebody calls it the biggest game of the year.

And theyíll be right.

At least, until the Jets play Washington, two more times. Then Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida, one last time.

Each one as close to a must-win as you can get before April rolls around.

Which might not bode well for a team thatíll have to be the best it can be, just to get into a tournament that demands even more.

Because it looks like the Jets canít handle, arenít built for ó or at least arenít yet steeled for ó that kind of constant pressure.

The evidence was on full display against the Oilers.

Two days after emptying their tanks in an overtime loss to the stout St. Louis Blues, the Jets turned their keys, Monday, and got only a slow, whur-whur-whur.

The lack of energy in his team perplexed Noel after the game, and even a fitful night of sleep produced only hazy half-answers.

ďThe only logic I can come up with is itís the magnitude of the games,Ē Noel said. ďAnd itís not going to change. Weíre going to have 17 playoff games here. Thatís just to get in, if we can.Ē

Do his Jets have the maturity to deal with the pressure? Do they have the depth?

Those are all things Noel is wondering these days.

ďThe other thing is itís been like this for quite some time. Itís not been easy for our team. Weíve had ups and downs. Itís been nose-to-the-grindstone for a long time.Ē

Tuesday, they finally got a chance to step back from the work bench, their first two-day stretch without a game since Feb. 12-13, a string of eight games in 14 days.

ďIt allows us to catch our breath for a second,Ē the coach said.

ďItís like weíve been playing, we recover, we play, we recover. Through this month weíve got some pockets here where we catch up. We catch our breath a bit and teams are catching up to us in games.Ē

He didnít say what thatíll likely mean in the standings, but he didnít have to.

He canít worry about that.

Thereís only one thing the Jets can do, as Jim Cuddy himself said that night.

And thatís try.


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