The Winnipeg Jets hold the third spot in the Eastern Conference standings, but the Southeast Division leaders realize they could easily fall out of that spot and even out of playoff contention.
Defeating the struggling Carolina Hurricanes for the third time this season - and second time in five days - on Saturday night could help the Jets avoid that.
With the division leaders holding the top three spots in the conference races, the Jets (18-15-2) are in a good position as they make a push for the franchise's second postseason appearance - and first since 2007 when they were based on Atlanta. However, a closer look at the East shows that Winnipeg is far off the pace from the conference's top two clubs - trailing Pittsburgh by 16 points following Thursday's 4-0 road loss to the Penguins and also nine points back of Northeast Division-leading Montreal.
While moving up in the standings would be nice, the Jets' focus needs to be on holding off the Hurricanes (15-15-2), who despite losing their last seven - including a 4-1 home loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday - are in second place in the Southeast and six points back with three games in hand.
"There's probably things that we'll look at from this game, and some areas where need to be better (The Jets were 0 for 4 on the power play), so we'll check that out and make sure we're better for Saturday because everyone knows how big that game is," team leading scorer Andrew Ladd said on Thursday.
It could have been even more important had Carolina held on its last game, Thursday's 6-3 loss at Toronto. Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, and Jordan Staal each found the back of the net to rally the club from two down, but the Hurricanes yielded four unanswered third-period goals.
"I think tonight was honestly one of our best nights of just working hard and working through it and trying to find a way to win the game,'' Jordan Staal said. "Obviously we didn't come up with the result but there's still, I guess you could say some good things, but obviously we've still got to be better if we want to make a push for the playoffs.''
Carolina hasn't been there since 2009. If it wants to change that, avoiding its first eight-game skid since a franchise record-tying 0-10-4 stretch from Oct. 10, 2009-Nov. 13, 2009, would be a good start.
The Hurricanes will likely face Ondrej Pavelec for the third time this season after Jets coach Claude Noel gave Al Montoya a rare start on Thursday. Pavelec turned aside 38 shots on Tuesday and 27 in a 4-3 victory in Raleigh on Feb. 21.
Pavelec, though, is 0-6-0 with a 4.63 goals-against average in seven home games versus Carolina.
Justin Peters should make a third consecutive start in net for the Hurricanes with Dan Ellis and Cam Ward nursing injuries. Peters has yielded four goals in each of his last three starts - all losses.
He's probably not looking forward to facing Jets left wing Evander Kane, who had three assists and matched a career high with four points on Tuesday. Kane has five goals and six assists during a seven-game point streak in this series.
Center Jiri Tlusty has three of the Hurricanes' four goals against the Jets this season.
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