Jets ready for sprint’ to finish

- April 16th, 2013

The marathon has transformed into a flat-out sprint.

So says Winnipeg Jets winger Blake Wheeler and it’s easy to see why he — and others — are shifting gears.

After enjoying a four-day break between games, the Jets are ready for their final six regular season contests.

“It’s a sprint now,” said Wheeler, whose Jets face the Tampa Bay Lighting on Tuesday night at MTS Centre to continue a vital, six-game homestand. “We were playing a lot of hockey there for a short period of time and now, it boils down to just over a week and a half. If you’re not able to empty the tank in those six games, then there’s another issue.

“Our team is excited about the opportunity we have and it makes it a lot more fun to be playing for something. The ultimate goal is making the playoffs and we’re within striking distance of that. So it’s a good challenge for our team.”

Regardless of what happens this evening, the Jets won’t be able to move back above the playoff line, but the focus is on simply winning games and letting the out-of-town scoreboard take care of itself.

The Lightning were talking about playing the role of spoiler, but as Martin St. Louis pointed out, they haven’t officially been eliminated yet, so they’ll be playing hard.

“They’ve got some tough weapons in the lineup and they can score goals, especially if you put them on the power play,” said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. “It’s not going to be easy. We had four days off, so we should be rested and jump on them right away. We’ve got to be ready to play all 60 minutes and then see what happens.

“It’s going to be fun. The next six games are going to be huge for us. We need to win because I don’t think we’re going to have help from the other teams. There’s always pressure, there’s nothing different. The fans want us to win, we want to win, the organization wants us to win. There’s always pressure in hockey and in the NHL.”

Since a five-game losing skid pushed them back below the playoff line, the Jets have responded with three consecutive wins and they’ll need to keep that up to stay in this hotly-contested race.

“Our last three games showed we were prepared to win the games at home and we just want to keep streaking and take advantage of the opportunity we have,” said Jets forward Kyle Wellwood, who carries a five-game point streak into the contest. “We know this is crunch on. There’s no games you can lose. It’s even harder than a playoff game in a sense. We’ve got to win all of our home games and go from there.”

The goaltending battle features Pavelec for the Jets and Ben Bishop for the Lightning.

The Jets got a look at Bishop earlier this season when they defeated the Ottawa Senators 1-0 when Al Montoya posted a shutout.

“You’ve got to try to find some holes in that net, there’s not a lot of them,” said Jets head coach Noel. “He’s a big guy that takes up a lot of the net. We’re going to have to find ways to get (the puck) by him.

“I knew him from his days in the American Hockey League. He’s really improved. He was raw when I remember him there in Peoria. You knew he was going to get an opportunity, you just didn’t know how much skill would follow. He’s going to be a good goalie. He’s got some assets with that size.”

The Jets will dress the same lineup as last game and Noel said that F Nik Antropov (lower-body) skated for the first time since suffering the injury against the New York Islanders and might be available to return to action later this week.

As for the Lightning, they’re playing a different style since Jon Cooper took over from Guy Boucher as head coach.

“It’s a different atmosphere, every coach has a different way of teaching,” said Lightning forward Steven Stamkos. “It was one style with Guy and it worked in the past. It wasn’t really translating into wins this year and it’s tough. That’s the nature of the business, sometimes the coach has to go.

“Jon has come in here and has changed the mentality a little bit. He’s well-respected and there’s a lot of guys who have won a (Calder Cup) championship with him down in Norfolk last year and know what to expect. There have been some changes in the system for sure, and the way we play. I think it was a fresh start. It’s been great. It’s obviously an adjustment period for him as well, coming up to this league. Hopefully we can finish the year strong and build up for next year.”

Bishop signed a two-year extension on Monday and is excited about being part of the long-term solution between the pipes for the Lightning.

He knows he’ll be battling Anders Lindback for the starting job next season, but that’s nothing new for Bishop, who faced similar circumstances in the St. Louis Blues and Senators organizations previously.

“It’s a very healthy competition and that’s something I’m getting used to,” said Bishop. “This year, I had it with Robin (Lehner) in Ottawa and in years before, trying to win the job against Brian Elliott (with the Blues) and going against Jake Allen in Peoria. It’s something that is just part of the game. When you get your chance to play, you’ve just got to play well.

“When you get traded, it’s always tough but it means there is somebody that wants you and you’re doing something right. It’s nice to get that extension. It’s something you work your whole career for. First, you fight for that first one-way (contract) and I got that last year and you have to build off that, you can’t be content. I worked hard during the summer and this year I got a chance when Craig (Anderson) got hurt to prove myself.”

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

JETS
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Kyle Wellwood
Eric Tangradi, Alex Burmistrov, Mike Santorelli
James Wright, Aaron Gagnon, Chris Thorburn

Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian
Grant Clitsome, Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart, Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone, Vincent Lecavalier, Benoit Pouliot
Alex Killorn, Nate Thompson, Richard Panik
Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Dana Tyrell, B.J. Crombeen

Matt Carle, Eric Brewer
Victor Hedman, Sami Salo
Keith Aulie, Radko Gudas

Ben Bishop (Mathieu Garon)

Categories: Hockey

Subscribe to the post

Leave a comment

 characters available