WINNIPEG - As has been the case for the last week or so, the Winnipeg Jets can’t move into playoff position with a victory tonight.
A loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, however, could spell doom.
That’s why the Jets, fresh off a season-long four-day break without a game, will need to be ready for Steven Stamkos and company at MTS Centre tonight.
“We’re going to have to skate,” head coach Claude Noel said this morning. “That’s probably going to be the most important thing.”
Another good idea for Winnipeg, which has won three in a row, would be to stay out of the penalty box, as the Lightning has scored four power-play goals in 15 chances against the Jets this season. Tampa notched six power-play tallies in a three-game span last week, while Winnipeg has scored seven goals with the man advantage in their last 33 contests.
The Jets are two points behind the New York Rangers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and the Rangers also have a game in hand. Winnipeg is four points back of the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals, who occupy third spot in the conference.
If nothing else, the Jets are well-rested and ready to make a run at the playoffs after three practices and a day off between games.
“I was just saying how it felt like it was two weeks we’ve been here without games,” winger Kyle Wellwood said. “It’s been nice to be at home with the family and come to the rink and get a couple practices in and start to get ready like you normally would.”
Ondrej Pavelec will battle Ben Bishop in the goaltending duel. The 6-foot-6 Bishop, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline, signed a two-year contract with the Bolts on Monday. The Jets beat Bishop 1-0 on Feb. 9 when he was still with the Senators.
The Lightning has won just once in its last six games and it is nine points out of a playoff spot, so it’s tough to gauge what kind of effort the Jets are going to face. Noel said it doesn’t matter what the Lightning do.
“It’s going to be about how we play,” Noel said. “We have to play the right way to win and go from there. The opponent at this point, at this juncture in the season, doesn’t really matter.”
Jets winger Blake Wheeler knows it’s important for his team to get going right out of the gate.
“There shouldn’t be much challenge,” he said. “Everyone feels rejuvenated and excited to get back to work tonight. I’m not saying it won’t necessarily take a couple of shifts to get into it.
“You never really know until you’re out there. But it’s an exciting time to be playing for us. We have a lot to play for, and hopefully it starts right from the puck drop.”
Fans attending tonight’s game won’t face any added security measures in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. The Jets feel they already have one of the most stringent policies in the NHL and will continue to do pat downs and check bags as fans enter the building.
“If you ask our fans we’re probably already a little vigilant for their liking,” said Scott Brown, True North’s senior director of corporate communications. “We’re hoping that after yesterday they’ll be far more understanding of the measures that we typically take on a day-to-day basis in this building.
“If people want to come to the game a little earlier than they normally would they could, because the process is going to be a little more vigilant, but nothing far different than what we do on a normal basis.”
LATE HITS: It appears the Jets are going with the same lineup that they iced last week … Nik Antropov, who suffered a lower-body injury on April 2 against the New York Islanders, skated for the first time today and is day-to-day. Noel said it’s possible he could play this week.