The Winnipeg Jets face a tall order this week, with winning all three of their remaining games pretty much the only way they will make the NHL playoffs.
But, says head coach Claude Noel, "We're not doing the math, we're just trying to win," which is the most sensible approach given the obstacles in front of his team. In addition to being down three points to the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers, who hold the seventh and eighth positions in the Eastern Conference with 52 points each, the Jets have to cope with a string of injuries.
Lost for Monday night's game in Buffalo against the Sabres are defenceman Zach Bogosian (head injury) and centre Olli Jokinen, who were injured in Saturday's shootout loss to the New York Islanders. Bogosian is listed as day-to-day after taking a check to the head but Jokinen will be out for six-to-eight weeks with a high ankle sprain.
They join forwards Nik Antropov, Jim Slater and Anthony Peluso on the sidelines, although the latter three are all listed as day-to-day and made the trip to Buffalo. Noel said there is a possibility Antropov could play Monday.
"I haven't determined who is going to go where," Noel said Sunday of his lineup changes.
Defenceman Zach Redmond was recalled from the Jets' farm team and he will probably replace Bogosian. But he played twice on the weekend for the St. John's IceCaps and the Sabres game will be his third in three nights. IceCaps forward Eric O'Dell, who scored 29 goals in the American Hockey League this season, could replace Jokinen but that was not determined by Sunday.
The Jets have back-to-back road games, moving to Washington to face the red-hot Capitals on Tuesday before finishing the season at home Thursday against the stumbling Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers have the easiest schedule. They finish up against the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and the New Jersey Devils, whom they eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday. Ottawa has the hardest stretch with games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. But they have a game in hand on both the Rangers and Jets.
Noel is hopeful the Jets' early success on the road will work for them now, although their road record now is an unremarkable 10-10-2.
"We've had [road success] this year, especially the way we started the year," he said. "Now, we don't fear the road. But at this time of year, the place you play isn't going to matter much."