Can Jets deliver the knockout punch to Canes?

- March 29th, 2013

We realize the whole “next game is the most important one” thing could be getting a little annoying here during the stretch drive, but there’s no denying the fact that Saturday’s tilt between the Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes could go a long way toward determining the Southeast Division champion (and no, I’m not counting the Washington Capitals just yet).

The Jets enter Saturday’s matinee six points up on the Hurricanes, who have lost seven consecutive games (0-6-1) after failing to hold a third-period lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

“Obviously, we know the situation. We’re six points ahead of them and they have three games in hand,” said Jets winger Evander Kane.

Winnipeg endured their own struggles against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday.

“We played well for the first half of the first period, maybe. I didn’t like the second too much,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “I think we got demoralized a little bit by the score. They have the puck all the time and if you don’t get it away from them, you chase it a lot. That’s a frustrating way for players to play. They do that against more teams than us. They were going good. Crosby was going good, Malkin was excited to be back.”

Were it not for some strong play from Jets backup goalie Al Montoya, the score could have been a lot more lopsided.

However, on Friday the Jets were doing their best to focus on the game with the Hurricanes.

“We’re excited about tomorrow,” said Noel. “We don’t have a lot of games left. Our window of opportunity is good right now. It helps your focus and it helps a lot of things. It enables you to stay on task. This would be a time to put your best foot forward.

“Both teams understand the implications of the game, knowing that there is still some time left to do some things.”

The 18-15-2 Jets have 13 games left on the schedule, while the 15-15-2 Hurricanes have 16 (eight at home, eight on road, seven within the Southeast Division). But after Saturday, there’s only one more head-to-head meeting left on Apr. 18, so you can be sure that both teams will be hungry for the points and hoping the game doesn’t go to extra time.

In other developments on Friday following the 35-minute on-ice workout.

* D Ron Hainsey and C Nik Antropov took maintenance days but will play on Saturday.

* Pavelec took exception to a question I asked him about feeling energized after watching Montoya get the start on Thursday, making it clear he’s not tired and wants to play the remaining games. We’ll see if Noel agrees with him. A lot will depend on the position the Jets find themselves in, but I still see a few holes on the schedule where Montoya is likely to see action, whether Pavelec is feeling good or not.

If you put stock into career stats, it might be worth noting that Pavelec’s career record vs the Canes isn’t great. He’s 5-6-2 with a 3.73GAA in 14 games vs Carolina.

* If you’re looking for reasons for what has happened to the Hurricanes since taking a hold of the Southeast Division earlier this season, try their 3-9 record against divisional opponents — including 0-2 against the Jets in the season series to date.

* Many have been asking for injury updates and on Friday, Noel provided one with some detail:

* D Mark Stuart (upper body, hip) remains day-to-day. Since there is no morning skate on Saturday, Stuart did some extra conditioning work at the end of practice with Paul Postma and Arturs Kulda. Likely all three of them will be scratched on Saturday but I wouldn’t rule out Stuart completely.

Stuart spoke with reporters Friday and made it clear that if it was up to him, he’d be back in the lineup but he realizes he needs to be 100% healthy before he returns, for fear of aggravation during the stretch drive.

“I feel good out there. A game is a different story, but testing a few things out there, I feel strong,” said Stuart, who acknowledged the injury is related to his collision with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. “It’s up to the trainers and coaches now. You don’t want to go out there and re-injure something. You’re not doing anybody any good, especially with the amount of games we have left, and the playoffs. You want to be sure you’re taking care of yourself. Get back as soon as you can but you have to be careful not to come back too soon. It’s no fun (sitting out), especially at this time of the year. It’s almost like we’re already in the playoffs and it’s hard to watch. I’m just trying to stay patient, as best I can.”

* LW James Wright remains day-to-day with an upper body injury. Wright made it clear it wasn’t a hand injury sustained in his fight with Steve Oleksy of the Caps. He’s not sure when he’ll be back but was hopeful it wouldn’t be long.

“It’s feeling better and it feels good to be back on the ice with everyone,” said Wright, who was sporting the bright orange, non-contact jersey. “They’re being vague with me, so I’m being vague with you guys. I want to get back as soon as possible. But I don’t want to rush anything. I want to be 100%.”

* C Jim Slater (hand) and RW Anthony Peluso remain week-to-week.

* Noel also unveiled that D Zach Redmond would be returning to Winnipeg next week to continue his rehab after the horrific skate-cut injury he suffered last month in Raleigh, N.C. ended his season. Redmond is expected to meet the media to discuss the incident next week for the first time.

* We’ve got an expansive Jets package in Saturday’s paper, complete with game-day tee-ups and a closer look at what the Jets might do before the NHL trade deadline.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start on Saturday:

JETS

Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Antti Miettinen
Eric Tangradi, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood
Patrice Cormier, Alex Burmistrov, Chris Thorburn

Toby Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian
Derek Meech, Grant Clitsome

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

HURRICANES
Alexander Semin, Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty
Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Tuomo Ruutu
Patrick Dwyer, Riley Nash, Drayson Bowman/Chad LaRose (LaRose missed Thurs game due to illness)
Adam Hall, Tim Brent, Kevin Westgarth

Jamie McBain, Joni Pitkanen
Jay Harrison, Brett Bellemore
Joe Corvo, Tim Gleason

Justin Peters (John Muse)

Categories: Hockey

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