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Jets playoff hopes may be dimming but players aren't losing confidence

WINNIPEG - The struggling Winnipeg Jets say they aren't in panic mode even as their playoff hopes appear to be slowly slipping away.

"If this is rock bottom, there certainly isn't any reason to go jump off a cliff," right-winger Blake Wheeler said Thursday as the Jets prepared to face the New York Rangers (35-27-4) Friday night. "I think our game's better than the results have been."

The Jets (30-28-9) haven't won a game since March 1, although they've also only lost two in regulation time.

They've lost two more in overtime and one in a shootout, 3-2 Wednesday night to the Vancouver Canucks, who gained a point on the Jets in their conference race as a result. The Jets led twice but couldn't put the game away.

"We're playing well, obviously not well enough to win right now," said defenceman Mark Stuart. "We're not getting the results but we are doing good things."

Defenceman Zach Bogosian says a few bounces here or there and some of the close ones might have gone differently.

"We've been on the wrong side of a few games now but we're right in it," said Stuart. "We're still confident in our group, we're still right there, we're still battling."

And he says there is no point in looking back.

"There's not enough time in the season at this time of year and how tight it is," he said. "If we're concentrating on the last give games today, then we're putting ourselves behind the eight ball. We need to be concentrating on tomorrow."

With 15 games to go and 30 points still on the table, Winnipeg certainly isn't out of the picture. The Dallas Stars were holding the final wild-card spot in the West with 74 points as of Thursday, just five more than the Jets.

But Winnipeg has a string of tough games to close out the regular season. They face the Stars on Sunday followed by the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche, who hold down second spot in the Western Conference.

In fact, of the teams they face in those remaining 15 games, only the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames currently have fewer points than the Jets. It's not an auspicious lineup to face for a team that has made the playoffs exactly once in the combined history of the franchise in both Atlanta and Winnipeg.

"Where we are right now we're going to be fairly close to being an underdog in most of our games," said coach Paul Maurice, who took over after Claude Noel was fired in January.

The Jets got back into the hunt for a playoff spot when he took over as head coach, winning 11 of 15 prior to their current slump. He has tried to improve their defensive play and has encouraged them to use their size and speed.

Maurice said he remains focused on ensuring the fundamentals are in place.

"I want to make the playoffs as bad as everybody does but that doesn't change the place we are three years from now, five years from now."

As for his own future, whether he will remain with the team after his current deal ends this season, Maurice doesn't have much to say, other than any speculation so far that he will leave after this season hasn't come from him.

Nor does he sound particularly worried one way or the other, noting he's used to getting fired. He has had a positive effect on morale in the locker-room and in the on-ice ability of the team to compete, but he suggests it isn't because he's working towards a permanent position.

"The energy coming from me has everything to do with where we're at, not where I'm at."

Stuart insists this is no time for high anxiety for the Jets.

"There's not a whole lot of room for mistakes but it's fun," he said. "It's a fun time of the year."


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