JETS (32-27-8) at CANUCKS (41-18-8)
TV: TSN-JETS, SNET-P (HD)
Last 10: Winnipeg 6-2-2; Vancouver 5-3-2
Season Series: Just another inter-conference one-night-only engagement; the two franchises have met twice in a season only once, way back in 2000-01. It's been mostly Canucks since the Thrashers/Jets entered the League in 1999-2000, Vancouver putting together an 8-2-1-1 record and winning five of the last six meetings. It will, however, be the first time the two cities fielded teams against each other since Feb. 21, 1996 at old Winnipeg Arena, a 5-3 Canucks victory.
Big Story: While the Canucks run neck-and-neck with the Blues and Red Wings for the top seed in the West, the Jets have been trying to solidify their playoff position, currently in the eighth slot two points ahead of the Capitals. A 5-1-2 homestand definitely helped hold off any challengers, but now they have to run a western gauntlet through powerful Vancouver and desperate Calgary.
Jets: Not only was the homestand productive from a standings point of view, the points came against several teams who are looking to do the same things the Jets are. Wins over the Lightning, Panthers and Sabres have at least kept some of the dogs at bay, but now they have to duplicate that success on the road, where they will be playing nine of their final 15 games. Six of those come against Eastern Conference opponents and four are within the Southeast Division.
"We haven't played as well on the road as we have at home, and if we could have played .500 hockey on the road we'd be sitting in a little bit better position than we are right now," Blake Wheeler told NHL Live on Tuesday. "We can't sit on the crutch that we are a young team anymore.
"I think we have gone through the battles all year, and right now it shouldn't matter where we're playing. We're going to have to win on the road to make it into the playoffs and even if we make it in the playoffs we have to play well on the road or we'll be out in the first round. I think we just need to learn from the journey that's gotten us here, we've battled all year to get to this position and hopefully we can apply the lessons we've learned in the last month or two."
Canucks: A look at the standings won't say much. The Canucks are playing with the big boys and vying for the top spot in the Western Conference and the Presidents' Trophy. The reason it's so close, though, is because the Canucks have lost four of their last five games, including two of their last three at home. Most alarmingly, their 5-3 loss to the Stars on Tuesday is their second straight in regulation, the first time they've done that since losing to Minnesota and St. Louis on Nov. 3-4.
The reason is simple. No conversation about the Canucks goes without a mention of the Sedins and Daniel and Henrik have 1 point between them in the last six games. Ryan Kesler has 1 goal in his last 13 games. Defensively, the Sedins and Alex Burrows were a combined minus-7 against Dallas. Coach Alain Vigneault has taken a patient approach.
"Those guys have been the foundation of this team since I have been here and I have a lot of trust and faith in them," he told the Vancouver Sun. "You have to trust that they are going to figure it out."
Who's Hot: Blake Wheeler has 16 points in his last 9 games and a plus-10 rating. He leads the Jets in points, assists and plus-minus. Evander Kane had his eight-game points streak stopped by the Sabres on Monday, which means he now has 7 goals and 15 points in his last nine games. … Kevin Bieksa has 4 assists in his last three games.
Injury Report: Zach Bogosian has been out since last Thursday with a lower-body injury. … Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard (neck, concussion) is not expected back until the playoffs at least.
Stat Pack: Both teams are in the top 10 League-wide on the power play, Vancouver third at 20.8 percent entering Wednesday's action, the Jets ninth at 19.6 percent. Man-down, though, the Canucks' penalty kill holds a decisive edge at a sixth-ranked 86.6 percent to Winnipeg's 23rd-ranked 80.7 percent. Like with everything else, though, the Jets are a lot better at home than on the road. Their power play leads the NHL at 24.8 percent at home, while it dips to 27th at 12.6 percent away from the noisy MTS Centre.
Puck Drop: And it's noise that concerns the Jets right now, as in making their own away from home, according to Dustin Byfuglien, who made the point after Monday's 3-1 win over the Sabres.
"Buff said it's about creating our own noise," Chris Thorburn said in the Winnipeg Free Press. "Obviously we're going into some pretty hostile buildings. We've got to play our game and execute our game plan. We've kind of dumbed things down here. It's baby steps. For a lot of us this is new, being in this kind of a race this late in the season. It's exciting. It's fresh. We're proud to be in this position.
"We've just grown as a team. We've become closer and we're just learning how to win. Whether it's experience or whatever it is, it's worked out well for us. We've developed a lot of team toughness throughout the course of the year. It's gotta show coming up on this road trip."