Despite the Winnipeg Jets' success since he took over as interim coach, Paul Maurice is being realistic about his team's playoff chances as the Olympic break approaches.
Winnipeg seeks a fourth victory in five road games under Maurice as it begins a four-game trip against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday.
The Jets' struggles through the first part of January led to the firing of former coach Claude Noel on Jan. 12 and have them fighting to move up from the bottom of the Central Division.
Winnipeg (26-25-5) has seemed to find a spark, though, winning seven of nine since Maurice's hiring. That hot stretch has given the Jets some hope of reaching the postseason, though Maurice knows there's a long road ahead.
"We had two goals from Day 1. (One is to) make the playoffs, but we're not going to do that unless we reach our first goal of building a foundation," Maurice said. "It's a huge amount of ground to make up. I would say there's a lot of hockey to play, but you can never take that attitude into a game that night."
Devin Setoguchi scored twice to help the Jets beat Vancouver 4-3 on Friday. Winnipeg will face Carolina, Washington and St. Louis on its trip after this contest.
''This time of year you've got to find a way,'' Setoguchi said. "If we're going to try and crawl back up in this thing we're going to have to make big wins late in the season here.''
Maurice said he was happy for Setoguchi, who had scored only once in his previous 26 contests. The Jets now will turn their attention to ending a six-game losing streak to the Canadiens.
Winnipeg lost the first meeting 3-0 on Oct. 15.
"Our next two opponents have gone through a tough stretch, and Montreal I'm sure especially feels they're just coming out of it," Maurice said. "We're going to get their best, and we should be as confident as we deserve to be with our play."
The Canadiens (29-20-6) had won two straight following a four-game skid, but they fell 2-1 in overtime to Tampa Bay on Saturday.
"We'll have to come out a little quicker at the start of the game," captain Brian Gionta said. "We'll have to do a better job from the start not to get ourselves in a hole, win our boards battles and make sure to avoid turnovers at the blue line too."
The lone goal came off the stick of Danny Briere, who had been seeing limited ice time of late. He was reunited on a line with Gionta and Tomas Plekanec for the third period, with Gionta assisting on Briere's second goal in as many games.
''I have to take advantage of my ice time whenever I get the chance," said Briere, who ended a 10-game goal drought in Thursday's win over Boston. "Every time we play together, good things happen. 'That was the mindset I had going on the ice with them.''
Briere scored an empty netter in the first meeting with Winnipeg as Carey Price earned the shutout. Price made 34 saves Saturday, but Peter Budaj could be in net for the second of Montreal's back-to-back set.
Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 22 shots in the first matchup with the Canadiens, is 6-2-0 with a 2.37 goals-against average since Maurice took over. He has a 4.01 GAA while losing six straight starts to Montreal.
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