By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck
With their playoff hopes seemingly out of their hands, the Winnipeg Jets are still optimistic about their chances and are trying to keep the mood light and fun during the stretch run.
The Jets (32-30-9) sit on the outside looking in with 73 points, six behind a Phoenix Coyotes team that is catching fire at the right time. The Jets face a Carolina Hurricanes (30-31-9) team fresh off a 3-2 loss on Friday night to the Chicago Blackhawks and know two points tonight would go a long way to helping them start off on the right foot when they step onto the plane to Dallas on Sunday.
“We want to end this home stand on a right note and have some momentum going into this road trip,” said Mark Stuart, referring to the Jets five-game western swing.
Stuart told reporters after Saturday’s pre-game skate that the mood around the dressing room is great, despite having little control over what will happen to their playoff aspirations over the next few weeks.
“Really excited to play,” said Stuart. “We have put ourselves in a position, that is what is so fun about this time of the year. You are playing for something and we are right in the hunt. We have a lot of work to do but that is what makes it fun too, there are challenges there.”
The Jets will welcome defencemen Zach Bogosian and forwards Jim Slater and Dustin Byfuglien back to the lineup tonight, barring any setbacks in the pre-game warmup.
Byfuglien said his teams’ hopes of postseason hockey are looking auspicious.
“I think we’re good, I think real positive on us making the big jump and snagging that last spot,” said Byfuglien. “We definitely got it in here and we just have to come out and prove it tonight.
“This is the best time to play hockey, everyone’s watching close, the games mean a lot more. You get down to the crunch time and it is do-or-die for your team. It’s times like this that can really set yourself up, when you focus now on the playoffs you can be ready when we get in the playoffs.”
Byfuglien also weighed in on his bobblehead — which will be sitting on seats when fans arrive to the MTS Centre tonight.
“It is what it is, it’s a bobblehead.”
Scott’s Scribbles: Puck drops at 6 p.m. tonight at the MTS Centre… Al Montoya gets his fourth consecutive start and owns an 0-1-1 career record against the Hurricanes with a 2.93 goals-against-average… Cam Ward is expected to start in the crease for the Hurricanes and is 21-11-4 with a 2.99 GAA all-time against the Jets franchise… The Jets beat he Hurricanes back on February 4th in Raleigh, 2-1, on goals from Andrew Ladd and Chris Thorburn… The Hurricanes are 4-10-3 in the back halves of back-to-back games this season.