They will play 82 games when it’s all said and done, just like every other team in the National Hockey League this season. But it could be argued – and the Winnipeg Jets aren’t disagreeing – that tonight’s match-up against the Washington Capitals may ultimately decide their playoff fate this season. The Jets trail the Caps by five points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, although Winnipeg has played one less game.
Asked if their season hinges on tonight’s game, captain Andrew Ladd was to the point: "You gotta think so. If we win, we’re three behind. If we lost we’re seven behind. It kind of puts things in perspective with only a few games left. "In big games your leaders have to come up big and show the way. We’re aware of that. And our line specifically is going to have a big task tonight of creating offence, but we’ll also see a big line (defensively) as well. It’s more of the same. It’s been the same way for the last month.
"Big games like this are always fun to play in," added Ladd. "Personally, it’s easy to get up for. It’s fun to have that tension in a game and pressure. I thrive off that. It’s the fun part of the season where you’re battling for something." The Jets, at 34-31-8 and with 76 points, trail the Caps by five but also must leap-frog over the Buffalo Sabres, who hold down ninth spot with 80 points. The Sabres are in New York to face the Rangers tonight. Winnipeg arrived in the U.S. capital after getting spanked 8-4 by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday and have had two days of full practice as part of their preparation. The Caps, meanwhile, lost a 2-1 shootout to the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night.
"They’re going to be coming," said Jets coach Claude Noel of the the Caps. "They played last night and they played a good game, close to the vest. But it’s not going to be so much about them. For me, it’s going to be about our compete level. We’ve really got to play this thing hard and put it in areas where we can have success. We’ve got to get the job done, however that is, whether this is the road or not at this time of year makes no difference. We’ve got to play this the best we can. We’ve got to lay it on the line, there’s no other secret recipe… it’s just put your game out there and let’s get going. There should be no reason not to: we’re rested, we sat here for a couple of days, there should be no excuses as to why we can’t put our best game out there."
The Jets will go with Ondrej Pavelec in goal while Randy Jones will suit up on the blueline in place of Grant Clitsome. Dustin Byfuglien did not participate in Friday’s game-day skate, but is expected to play
"It’s an important game. All games are important at this time," said Pavelec. "All we can do is be aware of who we play against and play the right way and see what happens. They played last night and hopefully they’re going to be tired from that and we can take advantage. We have to play a road game and bounce back after the Pittsburgh game and make some points. I didn’t see the standings, but I think they are five points ahead of us. It’s going to be a big difference, either three points or seven points. We all know it’s going to be an important game for us.
-- Winnipeg Free Press --