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Maurice commits to Jets' 'best lineup' against Leafs to respect playoff race

Winnipeg Jets' head coach Paul Maurice gives directions in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

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Winnipeg Jets' head coach Paul Maurice gives directions in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

TORONTO - Paul Maurice has been there, done that, when it comes to being on the outside looking in on the NHL playoffs come the final day of the regular season.

Armed with experience from seven years ago with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets coach is going to do his best to be fair to his old team and another involved in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.

Maurice watched in 2007 as the New Jersey Devils lost to Wade Dubielewicz and the New York Islanders in a shootout to make the Leafs miss the playoffs by one point. Even on Saturday he recalled how difficult it was to sit and watch.

"Wade Dubielewicz in net and the game just prior he poke-checked three of the guys and I knew that New Jersey hadn't shown video on that," Maurice said. "They were already in, they didn't care.

"They showed five clips and out you go and play. I knew we were in trouble when the first poke check came out. That was tough, that was a tough day."

Maurice easily could've given rookie goaltender Michael Hutchinson his first career NHL start. Instead he's going with starter Ondrej Pavelec to maintain the integrity of a very important gameā€”even if it's not that for his team.

"We've all been through it before," Maurice said. "I think whenever possible you put your best lineup in there.

"They deserve it: The Toronto Maple Leafs deserve it, and so do the other teams in that fight."

That "best lineup" apparently won't include winger Evander Kane, who appeared to be a healthy scratch based on the morning skate at Air Canada Centre. Kane spent extra time on the ice and looked to be the odd man out, even though Maurice would not confirm any lineup changes.

Kane has two goals and eight assists in 18 games since the Olympic break.

For the Jets as a team, the final games of this season are to establish something for next year. Since being eliminated from playoff contention, Maurice said he's more grumpy and it's less exciting to go to work, but captain Andrew Ladd and players know they have work to do.

"It's always a tough day when you know you're out of it and you've got to keep pushing forward," Ladd said. "But we're all professionals in there, we get paid to do a job and I think for us, more importantly, we're trying to build something here where we have that work ethic, day-in, day-out, regardless of what's going on."

That said, Maurice knows he can't act like the final stretch for the Jets is akin to the playoffs.

"No, we can't fake that," he said. "That only comes from getting there.

"That kind of intensity and pressure, we've got to find a way to manufacture in the regular season. That'll be the key for us next year: get wired up to that level and away we go."

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