The Jets took a step back Monday night in the pursuit for their first ever playoff berth since moving to Winnipeg in 2011, losing 3-1 to Central Division rivals St. Louis Blues.
The Jets (31-30-9) will look to make up that ground when they welcome the Colorado Avalanche to town Wednesday night.
The Avalanche (44-20-5), who finished the 2012-13 season with the worst record in the National Hockey League, have been sitting pretty ever since starting the year an incredible 12-1-0. The Avs are comfortably holding on to a playoff spot in the west, one point up on the Chicago Blackhawks for fourth place with 93 points.
But they’ve also proved human this season, evident in their most recent game, a 6-3 loss to Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night.
With that, here are five things to keep in mind when watching tonight’s game:
Oh, you again
It’s only been nine days since the Jets last played Colorado, a 3-2 overtime loss back on March 10.
Matt Duchene scored 2:33 into extra time to earn the win for the Avalanche. Dustin Byfuglien scored twice in the game, with Bryan Little earning two assists on the goals that were separated by less than two minutes late in the second frame.
Al Montoya made 31 saves in the loss.
Tonight will be the fifth and final time the Jets and Avalanche meet this season. In the past four games, all have been determined by just a single goal.
Winnipeg is 1-1-2 in those four games, earning points in all but one game, a 3-2 loss in the first meeting Oct. 26.
The Jets now have the chance to even the season series and claim a big two points with the win, or lose and fall deeper out of the playoff race.
Do or die
As far as the playoff race goes, the Jets are in desperation mode, with each game being a must win.
Winnipeg is six points out of a playoff spot with 12 games left on the schedule.
Optimists would tell you there’s still a chance, and I suppose there is. But if you consider that after the next two games at home, the Jets hit the road for the next five, each against teams ahead of them in the standings, the possibility looks slim at best.
For a long time, analysts have suggested that 95 points was the number needed to secure a spot in the top-eight in the west. Right now, the Jets have 71. To reach that projected number the Jets would have to win out. That’s certainly not an easy task. So basically, it’s do or die, starting tonight.
Big Buff, bigger impact
If anyone can be trusted to have a big game for the Jets it’s Byfuglien.
The defenceman-turned-forward has been lights out for the Jets of late. The big man has six goals in his last six games, and is tied for third on the team with 19 goals on the year.
Earlier this week Maurice described Byfuglien as an unusual man, equipped with a skill set unlike anyone he’d ever coached before, and noted he’s best when he’s enjoying the game.
He’s been down these stretches before, winning the Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. He knows how it feels, and more importantly, what it takes to win. That alone is a reason to keep a guy like him in Winnipeg.
The Colorado Avalanche has arguably two of the best in the game right now in forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
Duchene has taken his game to another level recently, collecting 18 points in his last 12 games, and being held off the score sheet just once since Feb. 8. He’s in a six-way tie for 11th in NHL scoring and one point shy of his career high of 67 points.
Bottom line: he’s dangerous, very dangerous.
As for O’Reilly, he’s having the kind of season you hope for when you’re in a contract year. Coming in at a cap-hit of $5 million, O’Reilly will be sure to ask for a raise, and he has a strong case. The 23-year-old winger has a career-high 56 points (25g, 31a), with 13 games still to be played.
Hopefully Maurice still has his notes on him from last season, when they were both members of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.
Up and Comers
Did you see that goal by Jets’ forward Eric O’Dell Monday night against St. Louis? The 23-year-old prospect took an Evander Kane pass at full speed and with only a couple feet to work with, deked the pants off Blues’ tender Ryan Miller with a swift move to the backhand to tie the game at 1-1.
It was O’Dell’s fourth-straight game since being recalled on March 12, and his second on a line with Kane and Devin Setoguchi. Kane noted Sunday that he enjoyed playing with O’Dell and credited his ability to move the puck and produce offensively, as his most impressive qualities.
Patrice Cormier is also up with the Jets, playing a limited role centering the fourth line. Cormier, 23, has added grit to the lineup, and judging from the last two games, has also become more confident. It will be interesting to see how he develops down the stretch.
Head coach Paul Maurice will use these last few weeks of the season to evaluate the team, including a closer look at the younger talent from St. John’s.
Expect both O’Dell and Cormier to be giving it their all down the stretch, even if the games start to mean nothing.