WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets held their own without them this week, but they could be getting three key players back for Saturday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Coach Paul Maurice said Friday he expects forwards Dustin Byfuglien and Jim Slater and defenceman Zach Bogosian to skate in the morning, and he's fairly optimistic they will be able to dress for the game.
All three missed Wednesday's game against the Colorado Avalanche but the Jets (32-30-9) still pulled a 5-4 overtime win out of the hat, keeping their playoff hopes alive at least for a little while. With 73 points, six behind Phoenix in the eighth and last Western Conference spot, the Jets must pretty well win out to have a shot.
Bogosian, who has developed into one of the Jets top blue-liners, and Byfuglien, the team's No. 3 scorer with 52 points, were on hand only for a team picture Friday. But Slater, one of Winnipeg's best centres in the faceoff circle, skated with the rest of the team.
Slater is also a new father, as his appropriately-named daughter Wyn (pronounced win) was born Wednesday when his team did just that. It's also worth noting that his daughter's birthday on the 19th matches his sweater number.
"Just looking at her face brings a smile to yours," he said.
Maurice, meanwhile, was also smiling a little and says he'd be making decisions about who plays after the morning skate Saturday. But the coach says goaltender Ondrej Pavelec isn't ready to return, although he may be able to play when the Jets face Dallas on Monday.
That means backup Al Montoya will return to the net. He spent time with the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Islanders before coming to Winnipeg in 2012 but hasn't seen much action until this season.
Pavelec was hurt in the first period of Winnipeg's March 14 loss to the New York Rangers and since then Montoya has recorded two wins and a loss to the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues.
He has played in or started a total of 24 games this season with a record of 12-6-3, a save percentage of .921 and goals-against average of 2.26.
He's also a fan favourite when Pavelec struggles and, with a record of 20-24-6, a save percentage of .902 and a goals against average of 2.97, this hasn't been Pavelec's best season.
Maurice says the players feel comfortable with Montoya in the net and he's popular in the locker-room but it's hard to say whether any backup netminder can become a starter until he gets the chance.
"Whether a player can do it long term, and I'm going to say it only in that position, goaltender, nobody knows until he's given that opportunity," he said. "What he's got to do is do what he's doing, change the frequency of starts."
Montoya, 29, is happy his game is strong and says he feels great, with ensuring he gets the rest needed being the biggest challenge to regular starts instead of a backup's normal schedule (or lack of one).
But he too refused to take the bait when asked about a possible future as a starting goaltender in the NHL.
"I feel like I can play games and I feel like I can win games, other than that I'm not really focused on anything else," he said.
"It's about coming in here and showing what I'm capable of doing and I feel like I'm doing that and I'm going to keep doing it."
Another player who got a chance to shine on Wednesday was defenceman Paul Postma, who was grabbing a cup of coffee when he was told to come down to the arena and suit up after it was clear Bogosian couldn't play.
Postma has had trouble getting ice time since he returned from a blood clot in the leg that sidelined him early in the season. But he had two assists in Wednesday night's win.
"You know, honestly, I don't think Maurice has got the chance really to see what I can do out there," he said after practice Friday. "I hope I get the chance to show him a little more what I'm all about."
Whether he gets to play with Bogosian likely to return Saturday may be a question mark, but Postma says the Jets can't afford to take Carolina for granted, even though the Hurricanes (30-30-9) are one of the few teams the Jets face in their final games that sit behind them in the standings.
"We've got to the point at this time of the season when we can't take anyone lightly," Postma said. "We've kind of have our backs against the wall right now. We've got to win every game."
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