Jets and Canadiens set for battle (updated lineups)

- April 25th, 2013

We’re only a few hours away from finding out if the Winnipeg Jets can keep their season alive.

The morning skate is in the books and the Jets are ready to face the Montreal Canadiens at MTS Centre in their regular-season finale.

The scenario is both simple and difficult at the same time for the Jets, who must earn at least a point and likely a victory to have any chance of a post-season berth.

As pointed out previously, the Jets (51 points) are one point behind the 7th-place Ottawa Senators (52 points, three games left) and 8th-place New York Rangers (52 points, two games left). A win by both of those teams — or a Jets loss in regulation — would mean the Jets would miss the playoffs.

It’s entirely possible the Jets could be eliminated before their game is even complete, as the Senators face the Washington Capitals and the Rangers face the Carolina Hurricanes in contests that start at 6 p.m. CT.

But the Jets will leave the what-ifs for a later discussion, the only thing on their minds is finding a way to defeat the Canadiens, who have enjoyed a fantastic season but have stumbled lately, dropping five of six contests.

The Canadiens won both previous meetings this season at the Bell Centre, winning 4-3 on Jan. 29 and 4-1 on Apr. 4.

For different reasons entirely, Thursday’s game should bring out the best in both teams.

“Our focus has to be on getting some points out of this game, any way that we can,” said Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey. “It’s mostly about us, but I would expect nothing but their best game. They haven’t put together a lot of wins lately and they’re looking to get themselves locked and loaded for the playoffs.

“We know we have to get points or we’re officially eliminated. We need to gather some points to keep ourselves alive.”

Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien made a rare appearance after the morning skate and was preaching calm.

“It’s another game that we’re here to do the job and win. We can’t really look at it any different. We have to go out there, keep the job simple and do your little things,” said Byfuglien. “It’s always about our game and that’s what we have to stay focused on.”

Byfuglien — a noted prankster — just grinned when asked if he might do something to help get his teammates loose for the big game.

“I might hide their equipment on them and stuff, make them panic a little bit,” he said. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

For all the talk recently about the big guns leading the charge, there’s no doubt the Jets can’t afford to have any players not pulling their collective weight in this one.

“We know the we have to play to have success. We need everybody,” said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. “We’re not going to win the game if just a few guys are going to show up. We have to show up as a team and I really believe we’re going to do it. We can do it. We’ve taken a step forward, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be about if we make the playoffs or not. It’s not going to be like, oh we were close. We have to win and then, we’ll see.”

I asked Pavelec what he thought of head coach Claude Noel’s comments that he thought the Jets could win a championship with him between the pipes.

“I just heard that for the first time today. That’s good to hear from the coach,” said Pavelec. “It’s good to know they have confidence in me.”

What are the Canadiens expecting from the Jets?

“Well, they’re playing for their lives,” said Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien. “We’re expecting an intense game, an emotional game from both sides.”

“We know how desperate they are, we know how hungry they’re going to be to win this game,” added Canadiens rookie RW Brendan Gallagher. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s a perfect test for us. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere to play in front of. For us, it’s going to get us ready (for the playoffs).

“There’s a lot of desperation in our group as well, to get back on track and start playing the right way.”

Gallagher was grinning from ear-to-ear as he was swarmed by the media on Thursday, his passion for hockey shining through.

He supplied a good moment of humour as well when he was asked by a Canadiens beat writer to help him with his awards ballot, by asking whether he should vote for Gallagher or teammate Alex Galchenyuk?

“I’m not going to say myself, but I hate saying him too because he’s not going to let me live it down,” said Gallagher, who has 13 goals and 25 points in 42 games going into Thursday’s tilt. “He’s had a very good year. For me to be able to watch him and go through this together, it’s been a lot of fun for us. My vote would be for him, just don’t tell him I said that.”

The same question was posed to Galchenyuk, who has seven goals and 25 points in 46 games — including six goals, 10 points during the past 11 games after a slump earlier this season saw him go 18 games without a goal.

“I don’t know, it’s a personal decision but to be honest with you, I don’t really think about that because a really big distraction if you start thinking of personal stuff like that,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on the two games (left) for us. As a young player, you dream to get drafted and then after that you dream to play in the NHL. It’s unbelievable, that’s for sure.”

I asked Therrien about Galchenyuk’s season on Wednesday and here’s what he said:

“He’s having a great season. For a young man that still has two years of playing in juniors (eligibility) and having not played much last year (because of a knee injury), we had a development program for him. We wanted to make sure that all season long he’s going to get better and that’s exactly what happened to Alex. He’s learning about the NHL, he’s learning about positioning on the ice. He’s got some great skill and his compete level is there. We really like the way the young man is playing for us right now.”

Speaking of awards, there’s been plenty of buzz about Canadiens D P.K. Subban being a strong candidate for the Norris Trophy. It’s a topic I pursued on Wednesday afternoon and almost every response revolved around maturity.

“He’s just been a more mature player,” said Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges. “He’s learned how to use his talents to the best of his ability and when I say that I mean, he knows when he has to skate and skate it to the other team’s end and when he has to make the simple, five-foot pass. At times, he tried to overcomplicate things early in his career. He’s definitely got the ability to do some great things out there, but the fact he knows when to and when not to has been the biggest difference.”

So is the Norris talk legit?

“Absolutely. When you talk about the Norris Trophy, you talk about the top defenceman in the league,” said Gorges. “His plus/minus is great, his points are great, he plays against the other team’s top lines. He’s got all the qualifications for it.”

“He definitely has natural talent. He’s just used his assets,” said Canadiens goalie Carey Price. “He’s got all the ability to be the best defenceman in the league.”

Here’s what Subban had to say on the matter when I asked him what it was like to hear name in Norris discussion?

“It’s great. Like I said, I’m 23. Just to be in the discussion with those types of defencemen is great,” said Subban. “I don’t know if I’ll win it or whatever, but it’s always great to be in those discussions. But obviously, right now, my focus with two games left is getting ready for playoffs.”

Subban said sitting out the first six games because of his contract holdout was tough, but that he kept himself in great shape and that’s one of the big reasons he got off to such a strong start.

As far as what part of his game has developed most this season, Subban wasn’t sure.

“I don’t think anything specifically. I just think it’s just maturity,.” said Subban. “My third year is almost finished and it always seems like people grow up a lot quicker in markets like Toronto and Montreal. I’ve learned a lot of things playing here, playing for this organization and for this city and things have worked out positively.”

That’s going to do it for the tee-up, enjoy the game.

Based on the pre-game warm-up, here’s how we expect both teams to start Thursday:

JETS
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Nik Antropov, Mike Santorelli
Eric Tangradi, Alex Burmistrov, Antti Miettinen
James Wright, Aaron Gagnon, Chris Thorburn

Derek Meech, Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey, Grant Clitsome
Mark Stuart, Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher
Michael Ryder, David Desharnais, Brian Gionta
Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller, Rene Bourque
Brandon Prust, Jeff Halpern, Colby Armstrong

Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban
Josh Gorges, Raphael Diaz
Francis Bouillon, Jarred Tinordi

Carey Price (Peter Budaj)

Categories: Hockey

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