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Jets Head Into Olympic Break With Shot at the Playoffs

Those who were disappointed with the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon should take heart. Did anyone out there have anything but a frivolous Sport Select ticket with the Jets to win on it? I mean, if you bought a ticket on Saturday morning with the Jets-Blues game on it, surely you had the Blues.

Yeah, I know, all sorts of people buy tickets with their favorite team as part of a stupid parlay selection, but those people don’t really expect to win. They’re just donating money to Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries. Heading into Saturday’s game in St. Louis, the Jets were  28-26-5 (61 points) while the Blues were 38-12-6 (82 points) and the Blues were at home. If you had St. Louis, you had to figure this game was the free space on the bingo card.

Mark Scheifele has been brilliant since Paul Maurice took over (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Mark Scheifele has been brilliant since Paul Maurice took over (Photo by Shawn Coates)

But for awhile, it didn’t look like the free space. The Jets handled themselves very well on Saturday afternoon, especially burgeoning star Mark Scheifele. Scheifele had a pair of goals against a team that has already proven itself to be one of the elite clubs in the NHL. Scheifele is going to be hella good.

On Saturday afternoon, the Jets stood up to the Blues and did it in quite amazing fashion. They outshot St. Louis 31-26. They outhit the Blues 20-18. They also had more blocked shots.

Most importantly, the Jets penalty kill moved into No. 2 in the NHL on the road. The Jets gave up absolutely nothing a man short — again. St. Louis was zero-for-eight. Nothing. Not a sniff. The Jets even fought off an extended two-man disadvantage. Meanwhile, Winnipeg went one-for-five on the power-play on another one of those days (like Tuesday in Raleigh) when the officials went all homer on the Jets butts.

But Winnipeg hung in there. They fell behind 3-2 early in the third, but once again, they didn’t quit. Dustin Byfuglien scored his 14th of the year at 13:43 of the final period and that sent the game into overtime.

The Jets are now 9-3-1 with Paul Maurice behind the bench and heading into the Olympic break, Winnipeg is now 28-26-6, just two points back of eighth-place Phoenix in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. I can pretty much guarantee that nobody, not even the most ardent Winnipeg fan, could have predicted that a month ago.

Now, granted, the Coyotes have three games in hand and with 22 left to play, the Jets have to overcome Nashville, Dallas, Vancouver and Phoenix to get that final spot. It won’t be easy.

Winnipeg's own Ryan Reaves got into it with the Jets Chris Thorburn.

Winnipeg’s own Ryan Reaves got into it with the Jets Chris Thorburn.

But the fact we are even having this discussion is a shock. The Jets picked up a point on Saturday. That was huge. Yeah, yeah, they wasted a point in the shootout, but Winnipeg did pick up five of a possible eight points on a tough road trip to finish the pre-Olymoic portion of the schedule and that says a load about where this team is now.

Considering Winnipeg comes back on Thursday, Feb. 27, and in their first game after the Olympics, they get to face the Phoenix Coyotes at MTS Centre (they beat Phoenix 5-1 at MTS Centre on Jan. 13, Paul Maurice’s first game as coach). A win and they could be tied for eighth in the West.

That’s right, tied for eighth in the West. Just consider that as you watch Michael Frolik, Ondrej Pavelec, Olli Jokinen and Blake Wheeler play hockey this month.

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