WINNIPEG - After pulling their best home game this season out of the hat Tuesday, the Winnipeg Jets have to do it again against the New York Rangers to stay in the playoff hunt.
"I think you can't take your foot off the pedal, that's the first thing, we don't want to get back to mediocrity," coach Claude Noel said Wednesday.
"I think last night we were proud of the way we played and that's the way we need to continue to play."
The Jets got down and dirty with the Toronto Maple Leafs and came out on top with a 5-2 win, probably their most convincing this season—certainly their most convincing at home. They have the worst home record in the Eastern Conference at 5-6-0.
The win brought them into a tie for eighth with New York at 28 points. Another win Thursday night would help them vault over the Rangers and take sole possession of the eighth and final spot above the line that means either playoff contention or an early golf season.
Of course, New York also wants the same thing, particularly after a lacklustre effort Tuesday night in Buffalo where they bowed 3-1 to the Sabres and were slammed by coach John Tortorella.
The Jets said they knew the Leafs like physical hockey and came out ready to deliver their own brand, and said there is more in the cupboard.
"I think the physicality of our game and the intensity really led to a solid 60-minute game," said Noel.
"I think that's going to be one of the key things here at home."
Part of that physicality came from an early first-period fight between Toronto's Colton Orr (who was born in Winnipeg) and Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn.
"If you feel the time's right, then you've got to do it," Thorburn said after practice Wednesday.
With newly acquired tough guy Anthony Peluso out with an injury (possibly a broken hand from a fight with Washington's Aaron Volpatti on March 2) the job now falls in Thorburn's lap.
The hard-checking forward has more hockey skills than many who regularly drop their gloves—33 goals and 50 assists in the NHL, most in the last six years. Orr, for example, has spent a few more years in the NHL and has just 12 and 11 respectively.
But Noel gives Thorburn a lot of credit for taking on what he says is a very tough job, although he certainly isn't the biggest or meanest scrapper in the league.
"I don't think Chris is a heavyweight but he's willing to do the things necessary for his teammates," he said.
"That's a tough task, against guys who are bigger or stronger or better fighters possibly than you. . . I think he's very well respected from his teammates."
Tuesday's win cost the Jets centre Jim Slater, perhaps for an extended period.
Noel refused to confirm Slater has a broken hand but said he will be assessed on a week-to-week basis for "an upper body injury" he sustained in the third period.
"Jim does a lot of things. Obviously he kills five-on-threes and kills penalties. He's a reliable faceoff guy. You can put him in any situation in any position up front and (he) does a really solid job so he's a guy that will be missed."
The team called up Patrice Cormier from the St. John's IceCaps Wednesday.
The Jets do seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.
They have the eighth-best record in the league over their last 10 games at 6-3-1, while the Leafs sit at 14th and the Rangers in 16th, both with 5-4-1.
But the Jets also play the Leafs in Toronto on Saturday.
And with a couple of key games against conference rivals so close on the horizon, veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey suggests they have to put Tuesday's win in perspective.
"It puts us in a better position than we would have been if we would have lost obviously, but we need to continue make hay with these teams that are right around us," he said.
"We need to continue to string wins together to get a little space, otherwise it will be the same game over and over, where it's the feeling of do or die."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the Leafs and Jets were to meet on the last game of the regular season.
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