WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets conclude the home portion of the 2015-2016 regular season tonight against a Minnesota Wild team desperately trying to clinch a playoff spot.
“We like the energy that these games bring. Our last five are playoff teams or a team like Minnesota fighting to hang on. This is a big night for them,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “We’re going to see a team that’s been playing very well over the block of the last month and a half that’s not going to cheat the game. They’re not going to open their game up, unless we allow it to happen. They’re not going to make any high risk plays because there’s so much on the line.”
The Wild (38-30-11) would need to win and have the Colorado Avalanche lose in regulation to St. Louis tonight to book their ticket to the post season. However, the Jets (31-39-8) have won three of the four meetings between the two clubs this season.
Blake Wheeler has two goals and six points in those games against the Wild, and is riding a seven-game point streak coming into tonight.
“We know what they have on their side, we know what they’re playing for, we were there just a year ago,” said Wheeler. “It’s exciting to be a part of these types of games for us. They’re not as important to us, but we know the other side, it means a lot to them. It gives us a lot to play for.”
Winnipeg will ice the same line-up that took the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to overtime on Friday night. Although Drew Stafford, Dustin Byfuglien, and Ondrej Pavelec did not take part in this morning’s pre-game skate, Maurice says they’re all good to go.
He added that Pavelec’s play of late, including a 28-save shut out of the Vancouver Canucks, earned the 28-year-old netminder a second straight start.
“When you’re playing a team like Minnesota with so much in this game, we’ve all seen it a bunch of times, I think we have a responsibility, the Winnipeg Jets have a responsibility to put our best line-up in right now,” said Maurice. “Prior to the Chicago game, Pav had played some really good hockey. (Michael Hutchinson) had as well, but we thought that Pav deserved to be in a game where there’s a lot on the line.”
In order for the Jets to pick up a win in their final home game of the season, Adam Lowry, a fixture on the team’s penalty kill, says the Jets will need to stay disciplined.
“Their power play has been really clicking I think the last five or six games,” Lowry said of the Wild, whose power play ranks 12th in the NHL. “They’re a team that’s fighting for the playoffs and they’re looking to solidify that spot.”
The Wild are coming off a 3-2 loss to Detroit on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the 5-4 overtime loss to Chicago on Friday dropped Winnipeg’s home record to 17-19-4. Now in their final game at home this season, the Jets hope to send the MTS Centre fans home with two points for the 18th time.
“It’s definitely gone by quick. There’s times when the team is struggling and it seems to be dragging out, and now you get here and it’s ‘where did the time go?’” said Lowry. “The season has been disappointing with the results we’ve had, but I think you look at the stretch, and the young guys that came in, and how they played, and there’s a lot of optimism for the future.”
Puck drop is 7 pm CT.