– As crushing a defeat as it was one night ago, the reality is this: The Winnipeg Jets woke up today – still – in a playoff spot.
“It’s not the first (time) this season,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said following a short practice. “We all felt the pain of the loss, but it was one game. (Chicago) didn’t take four points from us. We’ll get back and get ready to be good tomorrow."
The Jets were in control, leading the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 before a controversial goal turned the tide. Routinely retrieving a loose puck in the neutral zone, defenceman Toby Enstrom lost his stick in a collision with the linesman, leading to a breakaway goal from the unimpeded four-time 30-goal scorer, Patrick Sharp.
Winnipeg native Jonathan Toews potted the winner with 30.8 seconds left on the clock.
“Every game is unique in its own right,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “At this time of the year you battle hard throughout the game to put yourself in a good position and then something like that happens… But we have to be able to move past those situations. We’ve dealt with this stuff extremely well throughout the year – whether it was a tough game or a tough bounce –
anything like that, we’ve always come back and had a really strong effort.”
The Jets will be looking to do that tomorrow night against The King, Henrik Lundqvist, and the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Rangers.
“The biggest thing is picking yourself off the floor and getting excited again,” Ladd said. “Everybody was pissed off last night and pissed off, probably, when they woke up this morning. … You try and shut it off at some point, but last night it took me a long time to get to sleep. It’s part of the gig.
“We talked about it and that’s it. It’s over with. We’re getting excited to play the Rangers tomorrow.”
The Jets are two points up on the Los Angeles Kings and one on the Calgary Flames. Both Calgary and Winnipeg have played 76 games. LA, 75.
The Flames (at Dallas) and the Kings (at Chicago) are both in action tonight.
“It’s never fun to lose, but we have a big game to get ready for tomorrow,” defenceman Tyler Myers said. “That’s what’s good about it, is that when things don’t go your way, you’re given a chance to have things go your way pretty quick. Guys were upbeat today getting ready for tomorrow. … It’s almost what you want going into the playoffs. We realize that it’s not a given to have one of those (wild card) spots, but we’ve been happy with our compete level and to bring that same level
each and every night, it’s what we have to focus on.”
The Jets’ push to qualify for the post-season could receive a major boost tomorrow as Bryan Little, who’s missed the past 11 games with an upper-body injury, could draw back into the lineup. If he does, he will reclaim his post on the top line between Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik.
“It’s going to come down to the morning skate,” Little said, adding that he’s been “really close” these past three or four days. “We’re taking our time making sure it’s healed up. … It felt like a while ago I could be playing with it, but we’re worried about re-injuring it and then being out for the year, including the playoffs.”
Little was initially expected to miss only the front half of a four-game road trip beginning Mar. 7 in Nashville, but instead, it’s been almost a month.
“It’s been really tough to sit and watch these games,” he said. “They’re so huge right now. The guys have been playing really well lately, but … It isn’t easy watching the team battle for their playoff
lives when I’m sitting in the press box.
“It’s been one of those roller coaster-type injuries. To not being hurt these last couple years to having this, it’s tough to swallow. It’s finally starting to get better. Hopefully I wake up tomorrow and I feel good.”
As far as Maurice is concerned, the decision is up to the player at this point.
“(Little) has a normal game-day routine tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll see how he comes back after today. He’s gotten through everything off ice that he needs to do, so he’ll make the final call on
this. He’s far enough along.
“At some point with all injuries, it’s as good as it’s going to feel.”
And that’s precisely the update on injured defenceman Ben Chiarot, who’s been out since Feb. 24 after having surgery on his left hand.
“He’s closing in on the strength that he needs to feel comfortable,” Maurice said. “He’s been able skate and condition, but I’m sure he’s tired of that.”
Chiarot will not be cleared until he feels “pretty close” to 100 percent, according to Maurice.
Fortunately for the Jets – and the same can be said of their top-line centre – that doesn’t seem to be too far off.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com