The Winnipeg Jets stand on the precipice of playoff elimination, essentially needing to win all of their remaining three games to make the postseason, but they would have you believe it’s a whole lot of fun.
Then again, when you consider the team’s history in both Winnipeg and as the Atlanta Thrashers, maybe the players are not pulling anyone’s leg. In 14 NHL seasons, this team has one playoff appearance, back in 2006-07, and it was over quickly as the Thrashers were swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.
“I think it’s fun to be playing meaningful hockey games,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd said after Monday’s game-day skate in preparation for meeting the Buffalo Sabres. “There’s pressure, sure. We need to win these games. As a player, you enjoy that pressure at this time of year.”
Jets defenceman Mark Stuart says, hey, what the heck, you can’t control what the other teams in the hunt – the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals – do, so just enjoy the ride.
“This is the best time of year, toward the end of the regular season and the playoffs, there’s nothing better,” Stuart said. “Every game is important, every game is intense.
“I think there may be less pressure at this time of year just because it’s so exciting, so much fun to play. You can’t let the pressure seep in because you’ll drive yourself crazy. Just enjoy the moment, enjoy the hunt.”
The Jets are fighting not only for seventh or eighth place in the Eastern Conference but also for the Southeast Division title and the third playoff seed in the conference that goes with it. The Capitals hold the lead with 52 points, the same number as the Sens and Rangers, who are seventh and eighth in the conference. The Jets are three points behind but a win over the Sabres puts them in position to take the division lead if they beat the Caps in Washington on Tuesday night.
However, the Jets, who moved back into playoff contention with a 5-0-1 home-stand in the last 10 days, are coping with several injuries. Defenceman Zach Bogosian looks like he will miss the last three games of the season due to what appears to be a concussion after taking a hit to the head in Saturday’s shootout loss to the New York Islanders. And centre Olli Jokinen suffered a high ankle sprain in the same game, which will keep him out for six to eight weeks.
Derek Meech will replace Bogosian and Antti Miettinen will step in for Jokinen against the Sabres. Defenceman Zach Redmond was called up from the Jets’ farm team but he is not quite recovered from a serious laceration and may not be able to play until Tuesday.
The Jets will face the Sabres’ backup goaltender, Jhonas Enroth, as there is a good chance Ryan Miller has played his last game in Buffalo. He was booed loudly in Saturday’s 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers and did not respond well, waving sarcastically to the crowd. With one year left on his contract, and an admission by the 32-year-old he would not mind a trade to a Stanley Cup contender, it looks like Miller will be moved in the off-season.