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Jets look to jump back into a playoff spot as home stand wraps up

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

AT FRIDAY'S PRACTICE

WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets will look to jump back into a playoff spot Saturday afternoon as they welcome the Vancouver Canucks to MTS Centre.

And as many expected following Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers, Dustin Byfuglien will not be in the lineup.

The star blueliner has been suspended for four of the final five regular-season games for a cross check on Rangers forward JT Miller.

“I know the person and I know the man,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said of the incident. ”At the end of the day, we’re responsible for our own actions. It was a cross check and a dangerous one. I don’t have a problem with the suspension. … We did something we shouldn’t do. We’ll pay the price and move on.”

Jay Harrison will draw back into the lineup alongside Adam Pardy in Byfuglien’s absence.

No. 33 is eligible to return for the regular-season finale on Apr. 11, in a game against the Calgary Flames that could determine which of the two western Canadian rivals will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“He’s not feeling too good about himself right now,” Maurice said. “Dustin Byfuglien’s been great for our team this year. … What Dustin Byfuglien owes this team is for that Calgary game to be the best game he can possibly play.”

In the meantime, there’s plenty else to focus on.

The Jets are currently two points back of the Los Angeles Kings for the second and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Jets are also only one point back of the Flames with one game in hand. In other words, with five games left on the schedule, it’s up to them. No out-of-town scoreboard watching required.

“Mathematically, we hold our playoff destiny in our own hands,” Maurice said. “You can say what you want about other teams’ opponents or ours, but the puck is going to drop and away we go.

"As of right now, we win out, we’re in.

This is the third and final meeting between these two teams this season and the first where the Jets will have fresh legs. In their two previous encounters, both at Rogers Arena, the Jets were finishing up a back-to-back set as part of a brutal stretch of five games in eight days. This time around, the Jets are coming off three days’ rest while the Canucks are making their last stop on a four-game road trip.

The Canucks currently sit second in the Pacific Division with a 45-28-5 record for 95 points.

“They’re playing well right now,” Blake Wheeler said, noting the opponent’s 2-1 record on the road so far. “It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a team that thrives on confidence and they’ve been winning some games – some tough games – so we know they’re coming in feeling good about themselves. We’ve got to try and make it a long game for them, try to frustrate them and not give them a whole lot of scoring chances and see if we can get them off their game.

“We’ve played a lot of hockey in a very short period of time, so to get those few days of rest was huge. It’s been good for us to refocus and get excited about these last five games.”

Wheeler has taken over the team lead in goals with 25 and is now only three off his career high.

Between the pipes, Ondrej Pavelec is expected get the start for the Jets, while Eddie Lack will get the call for the visiting Canucks.

Pavelec has started eight of the past nine games for the Jets, winning six and posting a .946 save percentage in that span. Overall, the 27-year-old is 19-16-7 on the year, along with a 2.41

goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.

It was announced Friday that Pavelec has been selected as the Jets nominee for the 2015 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award is presented annually to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Pavelec was nominated by the Winnipeg chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, whose general membership will select a winner via poll at the conclusion of the regular season.

“I’m pleased for him,” Maurice said. “Of all the criteria, ‘perseverance’ sticks out because of the events that took place this season. That was a real difficult thing for him to go through, giving up a goal like he did in St. Louis and being able to come back and not only have a strong performance, but [to win] five straight. The mental toughness that it takes to do that…

“It’s wasn’t adversity, it was competition that led to him not getting the net more during the year. It wasn’t poor performance by him – he played well in those stretches – but Mike (Hutchinson)’s numbers were an awful lot better at the time.

“Pav stuck with it. He gave himself and our hockey club a chance to get the most out of him.”

Pavelec is currently on pace to set new career highs in both goals-against average and save percentage. His previous bests were 2.73 and .914, respectively.

“I didn’t even know that that trophy existed until yesterday,” Pavelec laughed.

“Hockey’s been my whole life, so it’s a good feeling, for sure.”

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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