AT THE MORNING SKATE
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Winnipeg Jets will ice the same skaters as they did in last night’s win over Edmonton when they face off with the Vancouver Canucks tonight.
Even Blake Wheeler, who took a puck in the mouth in the first period, and returned in the third, will suit up. Though he’s not getting any sympathy from his teammates.
“Took him long enough,” captain Andrew Ladd quipped this morning at Rogers Arena, poking fun at his former line mate. “We knew he was coming back. We knew he had a lot of work to do, but that's what we've come to expect from Blake. He's a guy that has a lot of character, and has battled through a lot of stuff throughout this whole year. It's just something that we expect from him, he's a leader in our room and something guys really gravitate toward to is his ability to play through pain.”
Coach Paul Maurice was a bit easier on the 28-year-old forward.
“A couple root canals later, and he's fine. He's in the line up tonight. We really appreciate him coming back in that game. That was an uncomfortable situation for him,” Maurice said. “They've got all the painful stuff taken out. He's fine now, as anyone would be after a couple of them.”
Tonight’s game against the Canucks (42-26-4) is a battle between two teams with 88 points. Vancouver sits second in the Pacific, while the Jets hold a four-point lead over Los Angeles for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. But Maurice is cautious to put this game as a higher priority than the other nine remaining games.
“If the league calls and says there's three points on this one, then yes. These are all going to be hotly contested games,” he said. “It's a different emotion. Last night, a real challenge, Edmonton played really hard but they deal with a different set of pressures. But now, both teams bring the same amount of pressures into the game now. There's a cost to the risk that you put into your game. It will be a good even game.”
The other similarity between the two teams is scoreboard watching. The Jets, Canucks, Minnesota Wild, and Los Angeles Kings have winning percentages of over .650 in their last 10 games. So despite watching the out-of-town scoreboard, more often than not, each team sees the other end up on the winning side.
“You're hoping for some help but there hasn't been for two weeks. So we've all been living this,” Maurice said. “(Vancouver has) got a bit younger like we did over the course of the year, there's an excitement, they've had some injuries they have to deal with. I think they're fresh, they usually get to watch the team they're going to play the night before they come into Vancouver so they're going to be ready to roll.”
That is exactly the case tonight. After picking up a 3-1 win in Arizona on Sunday, the Canucks were off yesterday, waiting for Winnipeg to arrive in Vancouver. So far, the Jets are 3-1-3 in the back half of back-to-back games.
“It's one of those things you don't mind playing every other day or back-to-backs when things are going well,” Ladd said about Winnipeg’s five-game win streak. “You have a good feeling in there and sometimes when things are going well, you don't realize how hard you're working it's just kind of a natural thing. And everyone is excited to play every night.”
While the skaters all remain the same, there will be a change in goal for the Jets tonight. Michael Hutchinson will come in for his first start since a loss in Florida to the Panthers on March 12.
“When we went into Nashville having lost Little and Byfuglien, he was the difference maker for us in that game,” Maurice said of Hutchinson. “He's been a big part of our team, it's back to back nights. We will run a hot goalie for sure, we did it with Hutch, we'll do it with Pav, just not going to run him into the ground to do it.”
Over the course of the last five games, Pavelec has made some highlight reel saves at key points in the game. The Jets have also had timely scoring from all the forward lines and defencemen like Tyler Myers, who scored his third as a Jet on the power play last night. He says goaltending has been a big part of the win streak, but does credit something else to the Jets’ playoff push.
“A little bit of desperation. We understand we're in a good spot right now, but it's not concrete yet,” he said. “I'm sure it's going to go back and forth here down to the last game. We're just focused on what we have to do as a group. If we continue that mindset, we're confident we're going to end up in a good spot.”
Puck drop tonight from Rogers Arena is 9 p.m. central time.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com