March 15, 2012
Mission: Stop Washington begins for Jets
By KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - The last time the Winnipeg Jets had a home game with this much on the line was way back on April 12, 1996, when Keith Tkachuk scored the empty netter in a 5-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings to clinch a playoff spot.
The new Jets can’t clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night, but they sure might lose the chance at grabbing one if they can’t top their Southeast Division rivals.
If nothing else, it should be one of the more memorable games of the inaugural season. It’s unseasonably warm in Winnipeg, giving the huge clash even more of a playoff feel than it already had.
“The fans are going to be crazy again,” goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said. “So I’m really excited.”
The Jets are 10th in the Eastern Conference, four points back of the eighth-place Caps and one in arrears of the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres, who are idle on Friday. All three teams will have played 71 games after Friday night.
“Any time you get these kind of games, you’re excited to come to the rink,” left-winger Evander Kane said. “You don’t have to worry about anybody trying to get up for the game. It’s going to be fun. I’m really excited about it.
“It could be a make-or-break game for our season, and it’s definitely important for us to come and bring our best game.”
Both teams will have 11 games remaining after Friday’s titanic tilt, so the Jets have much more to lose than the Capitals. A clean win for Washington would mean the Jets would be six points back.
That would not be good.
“Probably not a make-or-break, but it’s certainly a good step in either one of those directions,” said winger Blake Wheeler, who has 51 points in his last 50 games. “We know the significance of it. We have two games against these guys the rest of the way. It’s in our best interests to win the games we have to win. This is one of those games.”
Winnipeg’s other game against Washington is next week in the U.S. capital, and we won’t mention the Jets’ road woes for the 497th consecutive day.
“It’s a huge game, and we understand where we sit and how long the outcome of this game will go for us to make the playoffs,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “So we’re going to have to have the urgency that you’d have in the playoffs, and I’m sure the atmosphere is going to be great.”
The Jets know they play better at home. They don’t deny that. They need to take advantage of that.
“We’ve got to do the same stuff we’ve been doing: try to get them behind, get our fans involved, and that should make it a bit more difficult for them,” Wheeler said.
“We’ve played our best hockey because we’ve been excited to play at home in front of our fans. They give us a lot of energy and we seem to skate better. We always seem to get that first goal, get the fans involved and it makes it really tough on other teams.”
Friday’s contest won’t be the cake walk that Wednesday’s 5-2 triumph over the Dallas Stars was. The Stars were playing on back-to-back nights and looked like it. The Caps, who have won four in a row and have points in their last five outings, haven’t played since Tuesday.
Add it all up, and it should be a dandy at the downtown barn.
“I try to play every game as hard as I can, and of course it’s going to be probably the most important game in the season,” Pavelec said. “I don’t know. Every game’s really important. For me it’s just another game. We’ll see how things are going to go. I’ve never been in this race, so it’s fun. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to be part of it.”
A look at the Winnipeg-Washington season series thus far
Nov. 17, MTS Centre
Jets 4, Capitals 1
Blake Wheeler scored his first goal of the season in his 19th game, and Ondrej Pavelec made 31 saves in his 11th consecutive start.
Nov. 23, Verizon Center
Capitals 4, Jets 3 (OT)
Jason Chimera had two goals, including the OT winner, while Andrew Ladd and Kyle Wellwood both had a goal and an assist for the Jets.
Dec. 15, MTS Centre
Capitals 1, Jets 0
Alex Ovechkin scored the game’s only goal with 1:14 remaining after the Jets turned the puck over in the neutral zone.
Feb. 9, Verizon Center
Jets 3, Capitals 2 (SO)
The Jets scored two goals within 15 seconds of each other in the final 2:15 of the third period and stole the win in the shootout.