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Jets depart on three-game trip; Chiarot activated off IR

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets


WINNIPEG – Here we are. The home stretch.

The Winnipeg Jets kick off a critical, season-defining three-game road trip tomorrow night against Devan Dubnyk and the red-hot Minnesota Wild.

Covering nearly 4,500 kilometres over the next five-and-a-half days, the Jets are keenly aware of what lies ahead. It’s make-or-break time in the Wild, Wild West.

“We’ve got to take care of our own [business], and that’s winning hockey games,” Chris Thorburn said before departing for the State of Hockey. “That starts tomorrow. There’s no other choice. … These are important games and we’ve got to win them to get in.”

The Jets have a 40-26-12 record for 92 points, but are currently on the outside looking in due to the tiebreaker (ROW – regulation + overtime wins) with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. However, the Jets are only one point back of the Calgary Flames with a game
in hand, meaning they do control their own destiny.

Depending on what happens over the next few days, it could down to the season finale on Apr. 11 against, who else, but those very same Flames.

“We all how important the games are and as cliché as it sounds, we’re taking it a game at a time,” Lee Stempniak said. “It’s going to be a tough game in Minnesota, but we can’t look ahead to the other two games.

“They’re playing very well. They block a lot of shots, which is something we’ve talked about. The key is having layers in our attack – a guy in front of the net, another guy in the slot and if the shooting lanes are closed off, maybe look for some high tips. … Each line can get in on the forecheck, create offence off the cycle and really play in the other team’s end, which is a huge strength of ours.”

Stempniak has five goals and three assists since joining the Jets on Mar. 1

The Wild are one of the National Hockey League’s hottest teams since the All-Star Break and much of that can be credited to the play of their goaltender, who was acquired back on Jan. 14 from the Arizona Coyotes.

Starting 37 straight games, Devan Dubnyk has compiled a 26-7-2 record, a 1.74 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage, leading the Wild to a 95-point standing and the top spot
in the Western Conference Wild Card.

Overall, the Wild are currently sixth in the NHL with an average goals against of only 2.42 per game.

Head Coach Paul Maurice considers that a team identity more than anything else.

“Getting the puck to the net is as big a challenge as beating any one goaltender against Minnesota,” he said. “They went through a (difficult) stretch early on. They had the mumps and a whole lot of stuff going on early in the year and they couldn’t get their lineup together. … They don’t give you a whole lot, so we’ll focus on that – how we’re going to get the puck to the net.”

The Jets did that well Saturday afternoon, defeating the western Canadian rival Vancouver Canucks 5-4 after outshooting them 34-24. It wasn’t the prettiest, at times, but at this time of the year, winning is the only statistic that matters.

“There are a couple things we wanted to do better in our game last night,” Maurice said, acknowledging that he’ll have a “different tone” in evaluating his team’s performance from here on out. “We were pretty good at one and not so good in the other, so we went through the video and reassessed. Confidence is everything now. Believing in yourself, rebounding back after losses
like we did…”

ENSTROM DAY-TO-DAY; CHIAROT ACTIVATED OFF IR

Tony Enstrom left last night’s game late in the third period after getting tangled up with Canucks forward Derek Dorsett. Enstrom was “feeling better” today, according to Maurice and officially considered day-to-day. Enstrom is on the road trip and there’s a possibility he could play at
some point.

“We’ll see how he’s feeling tomorrow before we make a decision for tomorrow night’s game,” Maurice said.

Fellow defenceman Ben Chiarot may draw back into the lineup tomorrow after missing 17 games with a hand injury. Chiarot has been skating for quite some time now and is physically ready to compete after regaining both strength and comfort in that surgically repaired left hand of his.

“It was my choice (to keep him out) in the last or seven days. I wanted to get him more practice time, to get him feeling good with the puck,” Maurice said. “He’s ready. He’ll go in and play big minutes. He won’t have much time to think and I think that’s the best way to put a guy in.”

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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