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Jets hoping lessons learned can extend season

by Patrick Williams /

WINNIPEG -- The regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been one lesson after another for the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets will face another learning experience Wednesday when they try to fend off elimination by the Anaheim Ducks in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round at MTS Centre (9:30 p.m. ET; USA, TVA Sports, SN, FS-W). Anaheim leads the best-of-7 series 3-0 after a 5-4 overtime win in Game 3 on Monday.

Eight Winnipeg players have made their playoff debuts in the series and the margin of error in playoff hockey is slim, as the Jets have learned. Anaheim has won each of the first three games after trailing entering the third period, the first team to do so in NHL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"We have some learning to do," Jets forward Blake Wheeler said. "Each game we've progressed a little bit in what we're trying to do. We got better in some areas last night. And now it's just about finding a way to push that over the edge. I think there's certainly some learning to be done to get to where we ultimately want to go. We're taking the steps necessary to hopefully get to that level."

Winnipeg has reasons for optimism. The Jets have led the Ducks 36.3 percent (67:19) of the time in the first three games; the Ducks have held the lead 6.1 percent of the time (11:21). Two of Winnipeg's three losses have been by one goal.

"It's just one more block, one more save, one more pass, so it's not that big a gap," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "You're feeling that sense that you're right there, but getting through that door is a little harder than you think."

One area in which experience of Winnipeg's playoff-tested players will factor will be their approach to a must-win game Wednesday.

"You can't look at trying to force a Game 7," said Wheeler, who acquired Game 7 experience when he was with the Boston Bruins. "We've got to win tomorrow night. That's where I'm excited about the game tomorrow, is knowing our group of guys, knowing that it's just one game."

Jets captain Andrew Ladd won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, and has seen the many tests that Playoff hockey will present a team. He sensed a stronger confidence level moving the puck from the Jets in Game 3.

"I think there's lessons to be learned in everything," Ladd said. "We've seen from the first three games that we can learn, and I think we have. [In Game 3] we did a lot better job in a lot of different areas. That's us learning from Game 1 and Game 2."

Said Wheeler, "When we put everything we have into it… if they beat us tomorrow night, they're going to earn it."

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