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Improved Jets set to face Canadiens

by Mike Battaglino

JETS (26-25-5) at CANADIENS (29-20-6)


Last 10: Winnipeg 7-3-0; Montreal 4-5-1

Season series: Carey Price made 36 saves for the Montreal Canadiens in a 3-0 shutout at the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 15.

Big story: When Paul Maurice took over as coach of the Jets on Jan. 12, Winnipeg was 18 points out of third place in the Central Division. After going 7-2-0 in Maurice's first nine games, Winnipeg is 18 points out of third place in the Central Division.

The Jets did move from 10 points to six points out of eighth place in the Western Conference and a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"[Making the playoffs] is not our sole reason for being here," Maurice said Saturday. "The two goals from Day One, make the playoffs, but it's not going to happen unless we reach our other goal and that's building a foundation of a game we understand that we can continually play.

"… If you don't do that, you're not making the playoffs anyway. If you do it, and you build it, you have a chance to make the playoffs. It's a huge amount of ground to make up."

Team Scope:

Jets: Winnipeg has scored at least three goals in all but one of the nine games Maurice has coached. Eight were against an Eastern Conference team; the Jets play three from the East and the St. Louis Blues on the road before the Olympic break.

"Our next two opponents, especially, have gone through a tough stretch, and Montreal feels, I'm sure, they're just coming out of it, and [the Carolina Hurricanes are] rolling," Maurice said. "So we're going to get their best, and we should be as confident as we deserve to be with our play.

"So they'll be good games. Those next two games are going to be very fast, they're going to be up and down the ice. You're going to have to be in your lanes and on your routes way before the puck changes possession. … But we've got speed and size, so there are parts of that we can control too."

Canadiens: Montreal moved Daniel Briere up to a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, and Briere scored the goal in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Briere has scored a goal in consecutive games, giving him nine in 42 games this season.

"I definitely feel a spark playing with Plekanec and Gionta," Briere told the Canadiens website. "Every time we line up together since the start of the year, it feels like we can make something happen offensively."

Problem was, it took until 7:25 of the third period to get that goal Saturday.

"We have to come out a little quicker, a little better job starting the game, not getting ourselves in a hole," Gionta said. "I think we just have to do a better job winning our board battles, and making sure we chip it out, too many turnovers right before our blue line today."

Playing a two-game set on Super Bowl Weekend since the 1990-91 season, the Canadiens are 24-16-4-1; they are 11-8-3-1 in games played the day before the Super Bowl, and 13-8-1-0 on Super Bowl Sunday.

Who's hot: Jets forward Devin Setoguchi ended a seven-game goal drought with two Friday in a 4-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks. Forward Mark Scheifele has 12 points in his past 12 games. Defenseman Jacob Trouba has eight in eight. Defenseman Zach Bogosian has scored two of his three goals this season in the past four games. … Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher has four points in his past three games.

Injury report: Jets forward Evander Kane (hand) is out until after the Olympic break. Defenseman Grant Clitsome (back) and forwards Jim Slater (hernia) and Matt Halischuk (forearm) are on injured reserve. … Canadiens forward Brandon Prust (illness) played Saturday. Defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder), and forwards Alex Galchenyuk (hand) and Ryan White (upper body) are out. White skated with the team Friday. Forward Michael Bournival (illness) did not play Saturday.

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