The Winnipeg Jets continue their quest to make the playoffs tonight as they welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the MTS Centre. The Jets (32-30-9) will look to build off the momentum of a 5-4 overtime victory over the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night, the second win in their last three games.
As for the Hurricanes (30-31-9), they’ve struggled this season and now find themselves pretty much out of the playoff race with 12 games left on the schedule. The Canes are coming off a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night, making it their third loss in the last four games.
With that, here are five things to keep in mind heading in to tonight’s game:
History of success
The Jets went the first four months of the season without playing their former southeast division foe, but will now play the Hurricanes for the second time in the last six weeks.
The Jets were winners in their last match back in early February, earning two points with a 2-1 victory in Carolina. Chris Thorburn, who is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury, was the game’s hero, scoring with 1:03 left in the third period to clinch the win. Ondrej Pavelec put in a 28-save performance and Andrew Ladd scored the Jets other goal.
It’s been a history of success for the Jets over the Canes. Since moving back to Winnipeg in 2011, the Jets are 8-3-0 against Carolina.
A familiar face
A familiar face to the Jets' locker room makes his return to Winnipeg tonight. Defenceman Ron Hainsey spent the last two seasons in Winnipeg before signing with Carolina as an unrestricted free agent in the off season.
Many outside the dressing room remember Hainsey as an overpaid defenceman – he made $8 million over two seasons in Winnipeg – as well as a controversial voice for the Jets during last season’s lockout. But inside the dressing room, it was another story.
“Everything is good with Ronny,” said forward Jim Slater about playing his former teammate. “He was a great guy here in the room for us and he did a lot for us. He’s a real good player so we’ll see what happens.”
In 70 games this season, Hainsey has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points.
Bundle of joy
Speaking of Slater, the Jets’ fourth line centreman will enter the game with a little extra jump in his step. Slater officially announced the birth of his daughter following practice. Wyn Elizabeth Slater was born early in the morning on March 19.
“It’s been fantastic,” said the new father. “I’m just thrilled and every time I look at her face it just brings a smile. I’m loving it so far.”
With the new bundle of joy, Slater said his routine has changed a little bit, but he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s one of those things, no matter what happens in a game, you come home and see her and it brightens your day for sure.”
Welcome to fatherhood, Jim.
Hitting the mark at home
It’s the Jets' last game at the MTS Centre before embarking on a five-game road trip that includes stops in Dallas, three games in California, and finishing in Phoenix. Winnipeg will hope to ride off their momentum at home, a place where they’ve been able to find the back of the net of late.
In their last two home games, the Jets have scored an impressive 12 goals, beating the Stars 7-2 last Sunday to go with the five they scored in their win over the Avalanche.
For Wheeler, who ended a nine-game goalless drought with his game-winner over Colorado, the goals are a result of working hard day in, and day out.
“It’s nice to get some results for the hard work we’ve done,” he said. “There’s been games we’ve scored two or less goals and we’ve had more opportunities. Any time hard work gets rewarded, guys tend to feel better about their game and it eliminates that doubt that tends to creep in when you’re not seeing the results that you’re used to.”
Let’s just hope they save some of that touch for the road.
The game will also be a special one for head coach Paul Maurice. Maurice, 47, started his coaching career with the Hartford/Carolina organization in 1995 at the young age of 28. He spent nine seasons in his first of two stints there. He returned to the Canes in the 2008-09 season before being fired 25 games in to the 2011-12 campaign.
“I was there such a long time that there are players there still that I care about,” Maurice said. “I actually pull for them now more than I did in the past. When you get fired, and especially when you’re there that long, it’s very personal. So you’re not necessarily cheering for them and now I am.”
Maurice left the Hurricanes organization with a career record of 384-391-145. With the Jets, he’s 13-7-4.
“They’ve had to work very hard to build that franchise and you want to see them have success because it really is a great market,” added Maurice. “I just really hope we beat them.”