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Wheeler absent as Jets prepare for Blues

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – “It’s a testament to the character we have in this room.”

Drew Stafford and the Winnipeg Jets have reason to be confident.

It was a gutty win, that one – a 4-2 triumph over the visiting Dallas Stars, who did everything possible to spoil the party with a dominant middle frame.

The Jets bent, but didn’t break.

After surviving a push, they went on the offensive, scoring three unanswered to seize control and silence a divisional foe. The Jets (31-20-11) now have 73 points and remain atop the Western Conference Wild Card.

“We know what it takes to win games. We’re not going to falter,” Stafford said. “We needed that one, especially with how the last couple games have gone.”

Character, indeed.

MISSING A WHEEL

Blake Wheeler (lower body) was once again absent as the Jets took to the ice for practice.

Wheeler, who has been placed on retroactive IR as a result of the acquisition of Jiri Tlusty earlier this afternoon, will not play again tomorrow but could be available for Sunday’s matinee against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.

According to Head Coach Paul Maurice, Wheeler’s contributions have been immeasurable this season, both in the room and on the ice, in practices and in games.

“He’s very, very consistent in his game,” Maurice explained. “Early on, and this would true of a lot of players, young players are still trying to decide what they are and what they [want to] do. It takes them a while to decide what they’re good at. But Blake, right from the start, has been that power forward. … He’s good on the forecheck and very, very quick. He’s shockingly fast from a dead
stop to a full sprint. He’s in an elite range.

“The consistency of his game more than anything else is something that we’ll miss.”

Wheeler has 16 goals, 44 points and a team-leading +12 rating this season.

GAME 2

It isn’t getting any easier. And, really, did anyone expect it to? A four-game homestand continues on Thursday night against the Central Division rival St. Louis Blues, who currently sit third in the Western Conference with a 38-18-4 record.

This will be the second of five meetings between these two teams this season and the first of three in a 21-day span.

“St. Louis is a totally different team than Dallas,” Jets forward Jim Slater said. “It’s going to be a heavy, hard match for us, but I think the guys in this locker room are built for that. We have guys in here that are big and can skate. It’s going to be a tough matchup, but I wouldn’t expect
anything less.”

The Blues have lost three of their last four games after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

On the strength of a 4-2 win back on Nov. 23 at MTS Centre, the Blues lead the season series 1-0.

“St. Louis is an elite team,” Maurice said. “They’re in that Nashville range of teams that are extremely systemized. They’ve been playing the same way for a while now. … They’re very deep in their forward units and they have a big, strong back end.

“It will be about puck battles, about quickness, about getting to pucks faster before they can set their forecheck…

“It will be a good test for us.”

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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