WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets (24-26-3) look to string together three consecutive wins for the first time this season when they host the Boston Bruins at MTS Centre.
Tonight’s game comes on the heels of a two-game road trip through Colorado and St. Louis, that saw the Jets pick up two wins, and four critical points.
“I think we’ve got a little bit of an edge. After that Carolina game… I think a lot of guys, we stepped up as a group,” said Blake Wheeler. “You can see it in our game. Our compete is really great right now, we’re battling on every puck, and we’ve had really good goaltending. You roll all that into one, and you get a couple gritty road wins.”
The Carolina game Wheeler referenced was the last time the Jets skated on home ice before embarking on the road trip. Winnipeg gave up four goals in the opening 20 minutes, before getting to within one late in the third.
“It’s something that you obviously don’t want to have happen,” said Drew Stafford, adding that getting to within one and losing the game made the slow start feel worse. “But for us to come out and have the response we did, that shows a lot of character in here. It shows that we can do that, we can play a certain way.”
As much as the Carolina game seems to serve as a turning point for the Jets, the team knows they have to be prepared for a Boston team feeling just as Winnipeg did after the loss to the Hurricanes.
Boston (28-19-6) dropped a 9-2 decision to Los Angeles on Tuesday, a loss that halted Boston’s two-game win streak. It also left the Bruins with a one-point cushion in the top wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
“They’re going to come out and have a response. They have a lot of pride in that room. I know first hand from playing against them so many times over the years, the type of team they have, the aggressive fore-checking team,” said Stafford. “They have a lot of skill up front… We expect it to be a really tight game, a physical game.”
Stafford will be back in the line-up tonight after missing Tuesday’s game against St. Louis due to suspension. His 16 goals are tied for the team lead with Bryan Little. Stafford and Little are part of a group of seven Jets players with more than 12 goals, which is tied for the league lead.
The Jets hope the offense keeps rolling through February. The team is in the middle of a stretch that includes eight of ten games away from MTS Centre. Tonight’s game at home is just a pit stop before the Jets begin a four-game road trip Saturday in Edmonton.
“It’s going to be a tough stretch for us. We’re not really looking at it as eight or ten games, we’re looking at it one at a time, it’s given us a little bit of success the last two nights,” said Wheeler, who compared this stop at home to just another road game with one big difference:
“On the road you’re not chasing your wife and kids around as much,” he said with a smile.
Head coach Paul Maurice says this stretch of travel reminds him of the 2014-2015 season, when the Jets had a number of quick stops at home between traveling to different time zones.
“We’ve got a little bit of experience now, so we’re using that,” he said. “The hardest part about this month with our travel days, is finding four days off that are actual days off to the NHLPA. It’s actually a really light schedule, we play every third day, three days a week, but we’re traveling on a lot of Sundays, so we can’t count those. And we get home a lot after 2 am, so we can’t count those. So you have to fit these days in.”
The grind of the NHL schedule doesn’t slow down for any team. In fact, once the calendar turns to March, the Jets have games every other night until the final regular season game on Apr. 9.
“We’re going to be playing a lot of hockey here in the next month,” said Stafford. “The opportunity is going to be there for us to get points and go on a run. It’s just a matter of getting the job done on our end.”