Winnipeg Jets Playoff Push Staal-ed, Ten Games Remain

Bruce Fedyck-US PRESSWIRE

 

The Winnipeg Jets playoff hopes stalled on the runway last night as they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in front of a stunned crowd at MTS Centre. The Jets were leading a seesaw battle 3-2 going into the third period which included a pair of goals by the under-achieving Antti Miettinen but gave up two of their own in the third period from both Eric Staal, his second of the game, and the game winner from Chad LaRose with only 1:22 remaining.

 

The Jets played through a short bench after losing Nik Antropov to a lower-body injury and a controversial ejection for returning defenceman Zach Bogosian on a hit that resulted on a major charging call and game misconduct in the second period. The Jets held strong in the ensuing five-minute penalty kill with a puck-hungry defensive effort but couldn’t maintain their momentum in the third as the Hurricanes controlled most of the action before eventually going up 4-3 and stealing the two points to keep their own slim playoff hopes alive.

 

With the loss though the Jets remain in 9th spot in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Washington Capitals in 8th, and tied with Buffalo at 76 points. All three teams have ten games remaining. The Jets are in tough with only three remaining games left to play at home, with their next game tomorrow on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite an overtime loss to Philadelphia yesterday the Penguins are definitely one of the hottest teams in the league right now and tomorrow’s game will to be highlighted for Pittsburgh fans by the return of Sidney Crosby to home ice.

 

In honour of March Madness I’m looking at the Jets’ own “Big Ten” and breaking down what I believe the Jets need for their playoff hopes to stay intact. The team would tell you it means preparing “one game at a time”and that’s an understandable approach for a team that sports a paltry 11-19-4 road record when seven of their big ten games will be on the road. Thankfully here at Fansided we can project and speculate all we like, and lo and behold, lucky seven is exactly the number I would say the Jets should be aiming to win if they hope to make it to the NHL version of the sweet sixteen. (No more NCAA puns, promise.)

 

The Winnipeg Jets’ Big Ten

source: NHL.com

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 @Penguins – L

Fri, 23 Mar 2012 @Capitals – W

Sat, 24 Mar 2012 @Predators – L

Mon, 26 Mar 2012 Senators – W/L

Wed, 28 Mar 2012 Rangers – W/L

Fri, 30 Mar 2012 @Hurricanes – W

Sat, 31 Mar 2012 @Lightning – W

Tue, 3 Apr 2012 @Panthers – W

Thu, 5 Apr 2012 @Islanders – W

Sat, 7 Apr 2012 Lightning – W

 

Now the next ten games are all important, and two that stand out specifically to me are the Friday night games against Washington and Carolina, as these are the teams on the schedule that Winnipeg is competing with for the final playoff spot. Now five wins in a row might seem like a bit of a stretch for a team who’s longest winning streak came in December, all at home, but independently speaking I would say it’s no stretch by any means to imagine victories against the Hurricanes, Panthers, Islanders and Lightning, with the April 7th game at home against Tampa setting up to be a do-or-die scenario. I’m allowing for road losses against the Penguins and the Nashville Predators, the Predators game also being the second game on a road back-to-back after Washington, and would hope the Jets can steal a win at home against either the Senators or the Rangers, which they haven’t been able to do all season. The Rangers will be on the second game of back-to-back after a game against Minnesota, so I say why not now?

 

Aside from the numbers game, I’ve projected the seven wins in way that I believe is actually attainable for the Jets because I believe the Jets are a team that thrive on playing with a specific emotion. Usually at this time of year in sports this emotion is called “desperation” but I think a better word exists when it comes to the Jets: Fear. Specifically, fear of failure. I think this is part of the reason for the Jets’ success at home, with the team coming from a lukewarm market like they had in Atlanta to dropping into the middle a team where the slogan reads “Fuelled by Passion”, the players have repeatedly spoken about how much it means to them to win for the Winnipeg faithful. Winning on the road it could be argued you’re only failing yourselves and your teammates. At home, with 15,004 screaming fanatics in the seats and a whole city worried sick about the concept of loss, a feeling they’ve carried collectively when it comes to hockey for 15 years, I will state that this collective fear is one of the key ingredients that has propelled the Jets to victory this year.

 

To be fair, from the outset of the season, this is not a team that was projected on paper to make the playoffs. Even now it could be argued that the team is overachieving. This fear has acted as a powerful force in the Jets locker room and dissecting the Jets’ schedule as of late, I’ve noticed that whenever the Jets’ come up against a “must-win” scenario, where it appeared the entire season was hanging in the balance, they have delivered. I’m not talking about the game last night against the Hurricanes, which most had written off as an “expected win”. I’m talking about games like against Washington and Dallas, or the most recent game against the Panthers’, where it seemed like the game was positioned in a way that meant if the Jets had any hope of reaching they playoffs at all, it lied in a win. The outcomes of these games did not hold any certainty, in fact, the team and the fans went into them with trepidation and hope, not confidence, and the Jets responded with sound performances and regulation wins.

 

It seems though, when the pressure is taken off and the Jets have an expectation to succeed, as opposed to a fear of failure, they seem to lose that fight-or-flight instinctual on-ice response and collapse into themselves. Recall the recent road trip to Western Canada, when the Jets started out with fear against the supposed super-powered Vancouver Canucks. The Jets, playing on the road, were not expected to win this game, and yet played themselves out to a 2-1 lead as the Canucks struggled through most of the game as they have been dealing with for the most recent quarter of the season. When the Jets suddenly began to feel like they were actually taking control and could maybe even walk out with a victory against the-then Western conference leaders, the Jets promptly went into the toilet and played themselves into a 3-2 loss. The next game against Calgary, much like the game last night against Carolina, was a game talked about beforehand as a “should” win. Calgary was viewed as a weak team, wrought with injuries, and there was a feeling of confidence the Jets could at least get two points on this quick road trip. Sure enough, with no home crowd to remind them that failure was not an option, the Jets came out flat, Calgary scored three goals in 13 minutes in the first period and the Jets were out four points that they would love to have back. Finally, yesterday, with the Jets going into the third with a lead, and a regulation loss by the Capitals to Chicago earlier in the day, the Jets were feeling good about themselves and ended up with another missed opportunity. With those three games, six points puts them one behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division.

 

After the loss last night, Jets fans are once again lamenting and dreaming about what could have been, this writer guilty as well. However, that to me seems to be the perfect position for the Jets going into the Big Ten. The collective fear is starting to creep in again, and I’m even giving the Jets room to lose their next two games so that the fans can all be really down in the dumps. That, to me, is when the Jets are at their best, ready to fly. So abandon all hope, be depressed and sullen, write a comment about how Ladd has been a huge disappointment this year…

Can you imagine what it would be like if we make the playoffs though?!

 

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