WINNIPEG -- The final push to what the Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets hope is a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April begins Thursday when the teams meet at MTS Centre.
The Coyotes own a two-point lead on the Jets in the Western Conference postseason chase and remain one point behind the Vancouver Canucks for a wild-card spot. Coach Dave Tippett's Coyotes, who will play Friday at the Colorado Avalanche, also hold two games in hand on the Jets.
"Anybody that is in the race, they're talking about the same things," Tippett said after the Coyotes' morning skate. "A short season is coming, and everybody has to play [in] a playoff mode. The teams that do it successfully are going to get in."
Both teams used the break afforded by the 2014 Sochi Olympics to heal injuries and conduct extended practice sessions. But with a long week of practice behind them, both teams are ready for game action.
"We live for playing the game," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "It's fun that the game is back, and we're able to play."
The Jets, who begin a stretch of nine of their next 12 games at home, will regain the services of left wing Evander Kane (hand) and center Jim Slater (sports hernia). Kane has missed 10 of the Jets' past 14 games while Slater has not played since Oct. 18, a 52-game absence.
Jets coach Paul Maurice confirmed Kane and Slater will be in the Jets lineup against Phoenix. A strong week of practice convinced Maurice to insert Slater on the fourth line. For the Jets, the roster reinforcements come at a time when the organization is attempting to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"This is an intense time for the bulk of the League," Maurice said. "We've got to learn how to do that. We want a little bit of that pressure in the room. We want to feel it. That's how you learn how to get over it."
The Coyotes bring a healthy roster into Winnipeg to begin their stretch of 24 games over the final 44 days of the NHL's regular season.
"This is what makes it fun," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said.
"It would be boring if you were in first place," Doan added, joking. "It's going to be a blast."
Mike Smith will start in goal for the Coyotes while the Jets will counter with Ondrej Pavelec.
Here are the probable lineups for the Coyotes and Jets:
Brandon McMillan - Mike Ribeiro - Shane Doan
Rob Klinkhammer - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski – Antoine Vermette – Mikkel Boedker
Kyle Chipchura - Jeff Halpern - David Moss
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
David Schlemko - Michael Stone
Scratched: Paul Bissonnette, Chris Summers
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Michael Frolik
Evander Kane - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Devin Setoguchi - Olli Jokinen - Dustin Byfuglien
Chris Thorburn - Jim Slater - James Wright
Zach Bogosian - Tobias Enstrom
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy - Keaton Ellerby
Scratched: Anthony Peluso, Paul Postma, Zach Redmond
Injured: Grant Clitsome (back), Matt Halischuk (forearm)