Jets chase running out of chances

By: Adam Wazny | Sunday, April 21

New York Islanders' Josh Bailey's (12) shot goes off the shoulder of Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31) during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, April 20, 2013. John Woods/The Canadian Press

The playoff dreams for the Winnipeg Jets haven't officially been dashed -- that obituary lives for another day -- but hope for an extended season is on the ropes.

While the thrilling 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders wasn't the final dagger for the Jets, it did increase the degree of difficulty for a franchise looking to secure its first playoff position since the 2006-07 season. That a single point was earned against a sturdy Islanders squad wasn't the issue Saturday; it's just that at this time of season, under these circumstances, Winnipeg needed the two.

But it's hard to be hard on the Jets after a six-game home stand that saw them pick up 11 of a possible 12 points. This red-hot run moved the club back into the post-season picture but failed to put them in a better situation regarding the playoffs and they're still not above the line. Twenty-two days and 10 games ago, the Jets had a comfortable lead for the Southeast division crown. Now, they're left to chase the playoffs, and as everyone who watches night in and night out can attest to -- including Jets head coach Claude Noel -- they rarely prosper when forced to chase the game.

Saturday was no different: chase, chase, chase. After some sketchy defensive play and some porous goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec -- hello, frustrating inconsistency -- Winnipeg did manage to scrape together a familiar blue-collar moxie to overcome a 3-1 second period deficit and a late one-goal shortfall to get the contest to the bonus. Chase chase, and chase some more. Unfortunately, some unlucky bounces in overtime put the Jets' fate to a flip of the shootout coin, where they pursued the elusive advantage once more.

And again, it didn't fall Winnipeg's way. An important point lost at the most important part of the season, the critics rightfully note, but know that if the Jets fail to qualify for the playoffs it won't be because of what happened Saturday.

Think back to the two embarrassing losses to the Washington Capitals in back-to-back games at MTS Centre. Recall the lethargic showings in Florida earlier this season. No doubt these are the games the Jets will wish they had back should they fall short this week.

Winnipeg (23-19-3, 49 points), stuck in ninth place, trails everyone in the Eastern Conference playoff race and is starting to run out of real estate. Three games are left on the 48-game schedule -- two on the road, one at home -- and at this rate, given the heightened play from others around them, the Jets will have to win all three to have a chance.

Three games, starting Monday night in Buffalo, to figure out a way to make up the three points they trail the Southeast-leading Capitals (52 points) by -- with a key matchup between the two coming the next night in Washington. Three games to erase the one-point disadvantage as it pertains to the eighth-place New York Rangers (50 points), who host New Jersey Sunday to make up the game in hand they currently own over the Jets.

The Ottawa Senators (52 points, four games) and the Islanders (54 points, three games) are also in play, but it says here it's either the Southeast title or the eighth-place position for the Jets.

Winnipeg's playoff aspirations are still present and accounted for, but the light is starting to fade. According to Sports Club Stats (sportsclubstats.com), a website dedicated to the statistical probability of post-season odds, the Jets had a 34.7 per cent chance of making the playoffs Saturday morning.

By Saturday night, Winnipeg's chances were down to 19.3 per cent.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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