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Jets, Hawks meet in pivotal 'four-point game'

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

AT THE MORNING SKATE

WINNIPEG – It’s been like this for weeks: The energy and playoff-style intensity, an obvious rapport between that, the fans, and the feats of the must-win scenarios. On and on, the excitement is building.

Tonight the Winnipeg Jets look to extend their home winning streak to five. The opponent? The Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks, who, after a pair of regulation losses, are now only four points up with but a handful of games remaining.

The Jets, who are 12-2-2 in their last 16 at home and 21-11-5 overall this season at MTS Centre, are 3-0-1 vs. Chicago. Still, Head Coach Paul Maurice is approaching the matchup with caution.

“You never leave a game watching Chicago play feeling that the other team beat them,” he said. “They have the skill-set and they generate enough each night. You’re an edge the entire night with this team because you never, ever have control of the game.”

This is the fifth and final meeting between these two teams, pending a potential post-season matchup.

“We play and come at them hard and don’t give them a lot of time and space,” Blake Wheeler said. “They relish those opportunities. They like to possess (the puck) and make a lot of plays. We’ve tried to take that away from them.

“We can only control what happens when we’re on the ice. [The out-of-town scoreboard] obviously affects us, what other teams are doing, but if unless we take care of our own business, it doesn’t matter. … We’re only in control of the game tonight and it’s obviously a big one.”

WELCOME BACK, 85

Mathieu Perreault will return to the lineup tonight after missing a month-and-a-half (16 games) with a lower-body injury. Perreault will line up at centre alongside Chris Thorburn and Matt Halischuk and, according to the coach, will see plenty of power-play time.

Perreault will be looking to set a new career-high in goals in the final seven games. He currently has 18, tying the personal best he set last year as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

Eric O’Dell will be the odd-man out.

“It’s been a long time. It's felt like forever, so I’m very excited to be back,” Perreault said. “I’m going to try and keep it simple after not playing for so long. I know my legs might not be under me as well as they were before I got hurt, but I’ll try to make plays, get in on the forecheck and create some energy.”

“It’s huge,” Wheeler said of Perreault’s return. “His skill-set … He’s a dangerous player with the puck and he’s been huge on the power-play this year. To have that ability back in your lineup is huge for the team.”

Maurice said No. 85 will play regularly on the fourth line tonight, but “if that line’s going,” he’ll see an increase in minutes and responsibility. The coach is looking for the best way possible to integrate a new player without disrupting the chemistry on the other three units.

There are no other changes to the lineup. As far the condition of the team’s top line centre, Bryan Little, Maurice said a decision will be made on his status for Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers.

Seeking a seventh consecutive victory, Ondrej Pavelec will get the start in goal for the Jets. According to Maurice, the 27-year-old is “fresh, ready and playing some of the best hockey I’ve seen him play,” posting an unflappable save percentage of .964 throughout this undefeated stretch.

Pavelec has not faced the Blackhawks this season.

Corey Crawford will get the nod for the Hawks, looking to bounce back after allowing four goals in each of his past two starts.

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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