Against all mathematical logic, the Winnipeg Jets
are somehow within three points of third place in the Eastern Conference.
A 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres
on Thursday night earned the Jets their third victory of the month, but a 3-6-0 skid in January has taken much of the luster off a franchise-best month in December in which the Jets spun off a 10-3-1 mark. The Jets' effort in December had them sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at one point before they tumbled down to their current 10th-place slot.
Thursday's win pulled the Jets to 49 points, putting them just three points behind the third-place Washington Capitals
and eighth-place Florida Panthers
. After meeting Chicago, the Panthers will visit Winnipeg on Saturday night in a game that suddenly has major implications for the races unfolding in the Southeast Division as well as the Eastern Conference.
"It's a big game for us," Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec
said of beating Buffalo, "but now every game is going to be like that. It's going to be kind [of like] playoff games."
With Buffalo behind them, the Jets now must turn their attention toward the Panthers. Saturday's game will be the Jets' last home date before a six-game road trip that will include visits with the New York Rangers
and Philadelphia Flyers
. With just seven wins in 23 road outings this year, home games have taken on an even greater importance for the Jets.
"They're not too far in front us," Jets captain Andrew Ladd
said of the Panthers. "So they'll definitely be in our sights. Every game is huge right now."