Thursday night's tilt between the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators is shaping up to be a key contest for both struggling clubs.
The Jets (19-21-3) are sitting four points back of Nashville (19-17-7) for the last wildcard playoff spot in the Western Conference. There are still other teams in front of the Jets, but earning two points and keeping two points away from Nashville would be a big victory for a club that has seen its share of disappointments lately.
The Jets won eight of their last 10 home games in 2015 but have lost two in a row at the MTS Centre since the calendar flipped. They've also gone 2-3-1 in their first six games of 2016. The Predators, meanwhile, are in a slump of their own — in their last seven games, they've gone 1-5-1. The lone game they did win was a 2-1 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes back on Jan. 2. They've lost their last four games, including one last week against the Jets.
Both teams are hungry to dig themselves out of the ruts they're in.
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After morning skate, Winnipeg Jets bench boss Paul Maurice talked about the emotional level of his team. He also said ongoing contract negotiations with star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd are not distractions in the locker room.
Centre Bryan Little expects both teams to play desperate hockey and thinks Nashville will throw everything they have against the Jets. Little also said Blake Wheeler plays with his heart on his sleeve, and maybe more guys on the team need to play more like that.
Forward Alexander Burmistrov thinks it doesn't matter who the Jets' opponent is right now. The team needs to stick to the game plan, he said.
Mark Stuart said the Jets and the Predators are both good hockey clubs that are just currently struggling.