Now that the Winnipeg Jets find their playoff chances on life support, it’s only natural to wonder how they’re going to play during the final six games of the regular season.
Monday’s 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators didn’t eliminate the Jets mathematically, but it definitely looked like a deadly blow — especially since the Jets came back from three deficits (2-0, 3-2 and 4-3), only to give up the eventual game-winning goal 24 seconds after evening the score 4-4 late in the third period.
By the time the Jets hit the ice for Wednesday’s game with the New York Rangers, they’ll find themselves eight points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Even by rattling off a six-game winning streak, the Jets would need both the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres to fall flat on their collective faces in order to sneak in.
Having said that, don’t expect the Jets to mail it in with the hope of trying to secure a higher draft pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
That’s not the way a franchise trying to build a winning culture operates.
“We have targets,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “Players have pride and they’ve competed their whole lives, so I don’t see motivation as an issue. We have to stay focused on our targets and you always have things to play for. There are always goals and you can always get better. To me, there’s no reason to step back, that’s just unacceptable and that’s not what you do when you compete and you’re in athletics.
“Win the next game, we’re in the business of winning, playing well, building a better foundation than we have, defending better, continually improving. We’re going to continue to push. That’s what we’re going to do.”
While there was plenty of disappointment in the Jets dressing room on Tuesday morning, it’s clear the players don’t plan on coasting home either.
“The easy way out is to say that it’s kind of demoralizing, but if you’re in a playoff spot or not, you’re playing in front of 15,000, 20,000 people and you don’t want to get embarrassed,” said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. “No matter what, you have to give your best effort. In the games we’ve lost, I don’t think it’s been a lack of effort. It’s the execution and stuff like that.
“Whether you’re in a position to be in the playoffs or not, you still have to come out hard and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem with us.”
Jets winger Evander Kane agreed.
“We just have to finish out the season strong,” said Kane. “We can’t quit and we’re not going to. We’ve got six games left and we’ve got to try to win them all.”
The Jets are saying all the right things, now they’ve got to go out and show it on the ice.
It’s also important to remember that players are constantly being evaluated and there are many decisions looming for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company in terms of the makeup of the roster moving forward as the Jets head toward the off-season.
As the Jets fought their way back into the playoff race with a solid February, they showed plenty of character along the way.
That character will be put to the test again during the final 10 days of the regular season.
As long as the effort is there, most people in this province are going to be optimistic for what the future might actually hold for the 2.0 version of the Jets.