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New Jet forward Santorelli back in playoff race after waiver claim from Florida

MONTREAL - Being claimed off waivers has put Mike Santorelli back into an NHL playoff race.

The Vancouver native skated with his new Winnipeg Jets teammates on Thursday morning, a day after he was claimed from the last-place Florida Panthers.

"It's exciting," said the 27-year-old forward, who was slated for his first action as a Jet against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. "This time of year, that's what you play for.

"I'm very happy to be part of this."

The Jets looked to have a playoff spot in the bag when they took over first place in the Southeast Division with an 8-3-1 spurt from March 7 to March 26. But four straight losses since then has dropped them into a tight battle with Washington.

And the Capitals boosted their attack by dealing for veteran forward Martin Erat ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday, while Winnipeg's only NHL move was claiming Santorelli.

They also signed their 2012 first round draft pick Jacob Trouba from the University of Michigan, although it is uncertain if the 19-year-old will see much NHL action this season.

Coach Claude Noel hopes the six-foot 190-pound Santorelli can help put some spark into an offence that scored only five goals in the four defeats.

"He gives us speed and skill and he's been able to finish in the past," said Noel, who looked ready to start Santorelli on right wing on a line with Eric Tangradi and Alexander Burmistrov.

Santorelli had two goals and an assist in 24 games with the Panthers this season. In 198 career NHL games, he has 33 goals and 58 points.

Losing has been a test for the Jets, who missed the post-season last season when the franchise moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta.

"The results haven't been there and that's added to the pressure and frustration, but that's something we have to overcome," said Noel. "It's part of the growth of your team.

"We haven't handled it as well as we'd hoped, let's put it that way. But you know, for us, it's adversity. Adversity makes you stronger and we're dealing with that."

With general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff standing pat at the trade deadline, it will be up to the Jets to nail down a playoff spot over the final 10 regular season games.

A prime opportunity will come when they return from Montreal for six straight home games (and seven of the last nine). Seven of those games are against teams not currently in a playoff position.

"We're comfortable with the guys we have in this room," said defenceman Zach Bogosian. "We have to make sure we stay together and move forward as a group.

"Now that the deadline's over, I guess we can look forward to this being the team we have and we're comfortable with that."

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