WINNIPEG - What better way to make up ground than to beat the team you're chasing in the biggest game of the season?
That's the mindset the Winnipeg Jets have to bring into tonight's matchup with the St. Louis Blues, a team they've gotten the better of in all three meetings this year.
In order to make it four, and to pull within that much of a playoff spot (then three back of the Blues), it goes without saying that they have to be at their best.
"It's a big one," captain Blake Wheeler said. "You want to get a win, that's really all there is to it. They're an experienced team in these types of games, and they're going to present a big challenge.
"We're not going to make or break tonight, but it's definitely a significant game. They're a team we're trying to chase down and at this time of year, every game carries a lot of weight, so we're just worried about tonight."
The Jets have 18 games left including tonight, and are currently six points back of the Los Angeles Kings, who leapfrogged the Blues last night to move into the second and final wild-card playoff spot.
"We know what we've got to do," said Nikolaj Ehlers. "Our goal is to make the playoffs, and I think that we've been playing really well lately, so we've just got to continue that and bring the small details we've worked on these past few days.
"I feel we're all ready and are excited to go tonight."
Video: PREGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers
The Jets will be getting some reinforcements up front and on the back end, as Andrew Copp (upper body) and Marko Dano (lower body) will both return to the lineup after lengthy stays in the sick bay, and Jacob Trouba will return after serving a two-game suspension.
Dano has missed the past eight-and-a-half weeks after falling awkwardly on his ankle way back on Dec. 29, and will immediately be put in a prominent offensive role, as he assumes the role previously occupied by Drew Stafford on the second power play unit.
Forward lines and D pairs:
Nikolaj Ehlers - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler; Mathieu Perreault - Mark Scheifele - Patrik Laine; Shawn Matthias - Adam Lowry - Joel Armia; Marko Dano - Andrew Copp - Chris Thorburn
Toby Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien; Josh Morrissey - Jacob Trouba; Ben Chiarot - Paul Postma
Nic Petan and Mark Stuart will be the odd men out.
"I wouldn't say there's been a falloff in (Petan's) last few games. He's been reasonably good, he's done some good things, but we're waiting for a little bit of that production," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "I understand who he's playing with, but you've also got to understand who he's playing against. There also hasn't been a big enough payoff on the power play, and we want to have Patty Laine using that shot a bit more, and the way to do that is to have a better net-front presence, and Marko Dano is very, very good in front of that net."
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
Maurice added that he wanted to have Copp back in at centre, specifically, and that, along with wanting to have the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Thorburn in for this physical affair factored into the decision as well.
Connor Hellebuyck, who was pulled after allowing five goals on 21 shots in Tuesday's loss to the Wild, will start in goal. Michael Hutchinson will back up after Ondrej Pavelec, who was originally scheduled to be in the lineup, suffered a bit of a setback in his "off-ice" recovery from a lower-body injury.
Cater Hutton will counter for the Blues, who will have a bit of a different look to them after trading away one their best players, offensive defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, earlier this week.
Mark Scheifele, who trails Connor McDavid by only seven points for the NHL points lead, says that while that will give the Blues a bit of a different look defensively, they have more than enough talent to burn you if you take that absence for granted
"Obviously Shattenkirk is a great offensive defenceman … but still, having guys like (Alex) Pietrangelo, (Colton) Parayko, they still have some firepower back there, so we've got to be aware of them," he said.
"We know the magnitude of this game. But we can't be gripping our sticks too tight or getting too anxious for this one. We've got to focus on playing our game and being aware that this is a team that can make you pay. It's a team that we're chasing, so we've got to have that desperation [in our game], but not that anxiety."
The puck drops at 7:00pm CT.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com
JETS GAME NOTES
The Winnipeg Jets continue a six-game homestand tonight against the St. Louis Blues in the first of back-to-back games this weekend at MTS Centre…The Jets began the homestand on Tuesday night with a 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Wild, which ended a five-game point streak for the Jets…Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault each had a goal and two assists for the Jets on Tuesday…The Blues lost their last four games of February, three of which by one goal…The Jets continue the homestand Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Jets have scored at least three goals in each of their last six games, including five twice - Feb. 14 vs. DAL 5-2 W and Feb. 28 vs. MIN 6-5 L…Winnipeg is averaging 3.8 goals per game in their last six contests…Tuesday's loss was the first time since Feb. 18/16 at TBL 6-5 SOL that the Jets scored five goals or more in a loss and the first since Jan. 5/16 at PIT 6-5 that the Jets scored five goals or more and lost in regulation…Since the franchise relocated to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season, the Jets are 63-3-2 when scoring five goals or more in a game, including 10-1-0 this season.
The Road Ahead
The Jets enter tonight's game five points back of the Blues for the second and final wild card spot in the Western Conference…Of the 18 games the Jets have left in the regular season, 12 are against teams currently holding a playoff spot…The Jets have a combined record of 16-17-1 this season against the teams they have remaining on their schedule.
Facing the Central
The Jets are 14-8-1 against Central Division teams this season, including 7-3-0 at home…The Jets have lost four of their last five games against Central Division opponents…tonight is the third of four consecutive home games the Jets have against Central Division foes.
The Jets are in a stretch of 11 of 15 games at MTS Centre…The Jets have played 34 games on the road this season, compared to 30 games at home…The Jets continue to be one of the teams to have played the most games in the NHL this season with 64.
Special Teams Notes
- The Jets are 1-for-22 (4.5%) on the power play in their last seven games.
- The Jets are 17-for-23 (73.9%) on the penalty kill in their last six games and have allowed at least one power play goal against in five of the six games.
- The Jets have played 34:15 more on the power play than on the penalty kill at home this season, but have played 47:35 more on the penalty kill than on the power play on the road.
- The Jets have been shorthanded 75 times in the third period this season, which is the most in the league.
Plenty of Finnish
Patrik Laine scored his 31st goal of the season Tuesday against Minnesota, which is tied with Toronto's Auston Matthews for the rookie goal scoring lead…Laine's 56 points (31g, 25a) leads all NHL rookies and he's the only rookie averaging a point per game this season…He's the first second overall pick to surpass 50 points in his rookie season since Gabriel Landeskog had 52 points with the Colorado Avalanche during the 2011-12 season…Since representing the Jets at the NHL All-star Game, Laine has 15 points (8g, 7a) in 11 games and is on a six-game point streak (8g, 4a)…Laine needs 20 points in his last 18 games to pass Jarri Kurri for the second-most points in a season by a Finnish rookie, second only to Teemu Selanne's 132 points while he was playing for the Winnipeg Jets during the 1992-93 season.
Set Up Scheifele
With two assists against the Wild on Tuesday, Mark Scheifele registered his fifth multi-assist game in his last six games…He has 11 assists since Feb. 14, which leads the NHL…Scheifele's 12 points since Feb. 14 is tied with Patrik Laine for second in the NHL, behind Nashville's Filip Forsberg (14 points).
During the last five games, the line of Mathieu Perreault (3g, 6a), Mark Scheifele (1g, 8a) and Patrik Laine (5g, 4a) has combined for 27 points (nine points each)…They have scored nine of the 18 goals the Jets have scored in the last five games…At least one member of the trio has scored or assisted on 12 of the 18 goals in the last five games.
In addition to Laine's six-game point streak, Dustin Byfuglien (2g, 3a) and Mathieu Perreault (3g, 6a) are on five-game point streaks…Mark Scheifele (1g, 6a) has points in three straight games.
Jets vs. Blues All-Time Records
At MTS Centre: 3-4-2