Not too long ago, the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion for the Winnipeg Jets after they spent several months flirting with first place in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Now, they are focused solely on just making the postseason, which is still likely, but not a guarantee.
The Jets will return home for a Tuesday night meeting with the 26th-placed Arizona Coyotes, seemingly exactly what the doctor ordered to get Winnipeg back on track.
But maybe not.
There has yet to be a single moment during the entirety of the NHL’s regular season where Arizona (27-32-11, 65 points) has threatened to be a playoff team. But they are currently in the middle of an eight-game point streak.
“We’re playing determined hockey right now. It’s a lot of fun,” Coyotes winger Lawson Crouse said after a victory over Chicago on Saturday. “After the trade deadline, we had a good meeting as a team and kind of hit the refresh button. Ever since then, we’ve been positive each and every day and playing the right way. That’s what’s led us to all these wins and the points streak and stuff like that.”
Arizona has also won six consecutive home games.
“It’s fun coming to the rink every day,” forward Travis Boyd said. “I think we just have a lot of belief in each other right now. … We’ve proven to ourselves that if we play the right way any given night, we can beat any given team.”
As the Coyotes have been tossing around the word “fun,” it has been the exact opposite in Winnipeg.
The Jets (39-29-3, 81 points) have been shut out twice over their last three games, while their power play has veered into a 0-for-13 slide.
Winnipeg also has a 5-10-2 record over its last 17 games.
Coach Rick Bowness, however, has assured that his team has no intention of sputtering toward the postseason.
“The guys are trying,” Bowness said following a 3-0 loss to St. Louis on Sunday. “We are in a playoff hunt. We have to work for it, but we also have to enjoy it. … Teams have to catch us. We’re in control of what we’re going to do next. We have to take care of Tuesday night and we’ll go from there.”
Bowness’ players also realize that it isn’t time to panic just yet.
“(We)’re in a dog fight,” Jets defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “I like that we have 11 games (left on the schedule) to do right. We’ve battled to be here all year and things haven’t been awesome lately for us but, at the same time, you’re here for a reason and you have a chance to go do something with this.”
Winnipeg is holding onto the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, with Calgary four points back and Nashville five points behind.
On the injury front, Coyotes defenseman Josh Brown did not play on Saturday and is considered day-to-day. He could possibly return Tuesday in Winnipeg.
–Field Level Media