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Blues-Jets Preview

AP - Sports

Just days before the trade deadline, the Winnipeg Jets pulled off one of the biggest moves in NHL history - and it didn't involve a player.

They vaulted six places in the Eastern Conference standings in one day, but are far from satisfied realizing they could plummet just as quickly.

The Jets hope to defend their position Saturday when they host the St. Louis Blues.

With Thursday's 4-3 win over Tampa Bay, Winnipeg (30-26-7) took over first place in the Southeast Division for the first time since Dec. 20, 2010. Second-place Florida is just one point back and still has four games in hand, but for now the Jets have vaulted from ninth place to third in the conference.

Winnipeg has fewer points than New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Ottawa, but is atop the Southeast so it slides into the third seed behind the Atlantic-leading New York Rangers and Northeast-leading Boston. Since 1998-99, when division winners were awarded the top three seeds, their jump was the largest in the conference standings in one day this late in the season.

"We can't sit back and take a photo and say, 'Hey, we're all set,'" said Blake Wheeler, who has a goal and 10 assists in the last five games. "It's going to take this kind of hockey for the next 19 games to make the playoffs.

"If we let our foot off the gas even one bit, we're not going to make it."

Winnipeg, atop the Southeast through 63 games for the first time since the franchise's lone division title in 2006-07, has benefited from playing more games than any other team in the division.

"We understand we have a lot of work ahead of us," said captain Andrew Ladd, who scored twice Thursday for the second straight game. "There's teams that have games in hand on us. We're going to have to keep playing the way we are and keep winning."

Winnipeg is 4-0-1 in its last five thanks to a suddenly resurgent offense. The Jets have tallied at least four goals in each of their last five games after reaching that mark twice in their previous 22 contests.

Bryan Little and Evander Kane - in addition to Ladd and Wheeler - have been leading the surge.

Ladd has five goals and three assists in the last four games, while Little has four goals and three assists in that stretch. Kane has four goals and four assists in the last five contests.

Although all is well at the moment for the Jets, they'd be behind four teams in St. Louis' division. The Blues (37-17-7) have 14 more points than Winnipeg, but are second in the Central, four points back of Detroit.

St. Louis arrives in Winnipeg - the second stop on a six-game trip - after beating Nashville 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday. Chris Stewart and Vladimir Sobotka had goals in regulation, while T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald each scored in the tiebreaker to lead the Blues to their seventh victory in 10 games.

Jaroslav Halak returned after a four-game absence (flu) and stopped both attempts by the Predators in the shootout and 25 shots in the game.

"I felt good," said Halak, whose 1.43 goals-against average since Dec. 30 - and five shutouts in that stretch - both lead the NHL. "There weren't that many shots in the first period, so that helped me to stay fresh."

It is uncertain if Halak will start again Saturday or if Brian Elliott will get the call.

Elliott has allowed six goals in losing his last two games after posting a 0.86 GAA and a shutout in winning his previous five. He is 4-2-1 with a 3.31 GAA lifetime against the Winnipeg franchise, while Halak recorded a 2.18 GAA in winning his last three starts versus Atlanta.

The Blues won both meetings last season.

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