Brace yourself, Jets fans. It’s going to be an emotional final 10 days to this year’s hockey season.
The good news: the Winnipeg Jets have started to hit their stride — currently on a three-game winning streak where they have outscored their opponents 15-4, transitioning into a team worthy of a playoff berth from one who only a week ago was left for dead.
But none of that matters now. You can’t dwell on the past. Instead, you’re asked to hope for the future. And right now the future looks bright. Here’s why:
In a condensed 48-game season, rarely do players get time off. The Jets played their first 42 games quicker than any other team in the league. They’re coming off a four-day stretch without a game.
Some argue this could be bad for a team who’s been unable to embrace opportunity, but the Jets needed it. Ask any player in the league and they’d agree time away from the rink helps clear the mind, allowing them to focus on the task at hand and right now, that’s making the post-season.
All successful playoff teams have one thing in common: secondary scoring. During the Jets’ current three game win streak, 10 of the 15 goals netted by Winnipeg have come from players outside the line of captain Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler.
In the two games since being called up from the St. Johns Ice Caps, forward Aaron Gagnon has notched as many goals, including the game winner against Buffalo on April 9 and the opening goal Thursday against the Florida Panthers, en route to a 7-2 slaughtering. The Jets will need a couple unsung heroes if they want to make a run at this year.
The most successful playoff teams play with a physical edge. It’s the style of hockey Winnipeg has been most successful with this season. In the last two games, the Jets have recorded 39 hits in each contest, 10 more than their game average. Wearing down teams will be the key to this team’s success.
"There’s desperation for us," said Ladd about his team’s recent play.
"We have to have that same mentality and not sit back, initiate and anticipate and get on our toes and get on teams early."
Playing for Jobs Someone must have finally told Brian Little that this is a contract year for him. The Jets’ centreman is in the final year of his contract and will need to leave a lasting taste in the mouths of Jets management if he wants a pay increase.
Right now he’s making his case with three consecutive two-point games. Fun fact: since February 19, the Jets are 13-0-0 when Little appears on the score sheet.
But Little is not alone. He’s just one of the nine players who will become a restricted free agent at the end of the year. Nine other players are set to become unrestricted free agents.
You can bet the Jets’ brass will look back on this final stretch over the summer when determining who should ink a deal.
Date with destiny
In the six remaining games this season, two games stick out above all. The Jets will face the New York Islanders (April 20) and Washington (April 23), two teams the Jets are hoping to catch by the end of next week. Lose one of these games and the odds of making the post season fall drastically. These are playoff games.
The Winnipeg Jets know they need to focus on one game at a time. That starts tonight as they welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning to the MTS Centre.
Thus, it’s the beginning of an emotional ride for both the players and the fans.