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Jets, Wild set to renew rivalry

by Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007) / Winnipeg Jets


WINNIPEG -- One day after their first regular season exposure to 3-on-3 overtime, the Winnipeg Jets were already in preparation mode, gearing up for Sunday’s match up with the Minnesota Wild.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten Friday’s 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay, or the 36 seconds of back and forth overtime.

“I don’t like it today because we lost,” said Bryan Little of the new overtime format. “It’s tough because it’s nothing you’ve ever played at this level. You might have played it fooling around in shinny or in the summer, but to play it at this level, you saw it last night, you make one mistake or you give another team an odd-man rush, they’ll make you pay.”

The Lightning did that, converting an odd-man rush shortly after Little was stopped on a breakaway by Ben Bishop.

But Saturday’s practice was a new day. When coach Paul Maurice looked over the video from the loss, he liked what he saw in the first and third periods. The mission is to like all 60 minutes.

“That’s our goal. How can we be on our toes for 60 minutes against those teams? That’s what the regular season is all about, learning how to keep pushing,” Maurice said. “We’re still in the early part of the season like a lot of teams… We took a look at the parts of the games that we didn’t have control and the things that we need to do better, and we addressed those.”

Little agreed with his coach’s assessment, adding that playing a full 60 minutes isn’t something a team can practice. The next chance for the Jets to accomplish their goal of that full 60-minute effort comes in the form of a Central Division rival: the Minnesota Wild.

“We see them a ton. They’re always tight games, tight defensively,” said Little. “They’re a good team. It’s kind of grown over the last few years, playing them a lot more and having them in our division. It’s definitely a game that you circle on your calendar.”

A name the Jets may have circled on the Wild roster is Zach Parise. The left-winger leads the Wild in scoring with six goals and eight points. Maurice noted the Minneapolis native’s ability to drive to the net as a key part of his offensive production. This will be the first of five meetings between the Jets and Wild this season.

“I don’t think either team really likes each other,” Maurice said of the rivalry. “It’s a function of being neck and neck with them in the standings and scratching and clawing… that will be the story (Sunday).”

As far as the Jets line-up goes, Drew Stafford sat our Saturday’s practice for maintenance purposes, but Maurice said he will be in the line-up on Sunday. Stafford was one of the three goal scorers for the Jets in Friday’s loss, with each goal coming from a different line.

“If a line or a couple guys are struggling to score, you have a couple guys, or a couple lines, that can put the puck in the net,” said Little. “I think we have that this year, where we might have lacked it a bit last year - that scoring depth. There are skilled players on all of our lines that can put the puck in the net and make offensive plays.”

Dustin Byfuglien was mere inches from joining in on the offense Friday, when his point shot squeaked through Bishop, but was swatted away at the goal line. Byfuglien has been paired with a familiar face on the blue line that past couple games: Toby Enstrom.

“It’s a little bit easier to read the game with him and know what he’s going to do,” said Byfuglien. “Makes the game a little bit simpler back there.”

Thirteen of the Jets 36 shots on goal against the Lightning came from the team’s blue liners, with Byfuglien’s five leading the way. He likes how involved the defencemen are in the Jets offense.

“I think every pairing has someone that is good at joining the rush. I think it just comes from how we play our D zone,” he said. “You just have to rely on our forwards. I think that’s one of our big things is just getting used to the way our forwards are playing. Just knowing we can pinch down and join the rush.”

Puck drop on Sunday is 5 pm CT at MTS Centre and will be the fourth game in a six-game home stand for the Jets. The Wild will be playing their second game in as many nights, after hosting Anaheim Saturday night.

“It’s another team we have to battle with,” said Byfuglien. “Every time we play them it’s one of those division games that will be a hard game to play.”

-- Mitchell Clinton,

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