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CHICAGO — Dustin Byfuglien is likely going to have a big say in just how far the Winnipeg Jets can go this spring. And while the big defenceman’s return to the lineup certainly provides a much-needed boost, he’s not taking anything for granted.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Byfuglien admitted Monday, prior to his team taking on the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. “If you look at our next opponents, everyone’s battling. We’re going to have to come out here and start doing the right things.”
Byfuglien dressed for his 39th game of his injury-plagued season Monday, going a plus-one and leading the team in hits (six) and ice time (24:28). He missed 19 games with his latest injury before suiting up on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens in what was a disappointing 3-1 loss, the club’s third in a row.
“I thought it went pretty good. For myself, I felt pretty good. As the game went on, I got a little bit more comfy out there, the timing got a little better. I’m just gonna have to take it period by period,” Byfuglien said. “It was just nice to be back on the bench with the boys.”
There’s plenty of hand-wringing going on about where the Jets finish and who they play in the opening round of the playoffs. For Byfuglien and his teammates, the biggest priority appears to be getting their game in the right place.
“I guess we gotta get our team going. It, obviously, would be nice to be on the top, but we’ve got to get our team playing together and playing good hockey,” said Byfuglien, who harked back to the March 23 game against the Nashville Predators, in which the Jets won 5-0, as a benchmark.
“I think it’s just doing the little things. We have a game plan, we just have to get back at it and do it for the full 60,” he said.
Byfuglien won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 and always has visits to the Windy City circled on the calendar, figuratively speaking.
“It always feels good to come back here. It’s always a good barn to play in, it’s (a) loud, nice big barn. I still hope I’ve got some fans here,” he said.
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Put Paul Maurice in the camp that is more worried about how his team is playing than where they finish in the standings.
“Maybe familiarity is working against us because I’m not sure that it matters. When you look at how close all of these teams are, if you said ‘pick a team that you’d want to play in the first round,’ there’s not that ‘hey, we don’t want that team.’ That’s not there for us. We haven’t talked about the standings a whole heck of a lot here,” the Jets’ head coach said on Monday.
“We’ve talked about wanting to get back to our game and we liked it so much about a week ago (against Nashville), and then you have three that you don’t like for different reasons. I understood the Dallas one and we really felt we let the Islander game slip away and (Saturday against Montreal) we played a team — and it was a tight game — but they wanted it more than we did. When you’re sitting in the eighth/ninth hole, you can understand why they can get to that emotional well better than we (did).”
Does that mean the team can simply flip a switch, so to speak?
“I would say be careful with that because it almost, at times, can be disrespectful to the NHL if we flip that switch, we just win all of our games. That hasn’t happened. Well, it’s fairly close in Tampa, but it hasn’t happened for the rest of us. I don’t feel that we’re far off of it in our block of games and I also feel like there’s clearly been something missing in our last three that we need to get back, with a little bit of that drive,” Maurice said.
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Backup goalie Laurent Brossoit is not expected to return to action before the end of the regular season.
Brossoit, who suffered a lower-body injury on March 21 in Vegas, came out near the end of Monday’s morning skate to take some shots from the healthy scratches.
“He’s not far off, but there’s no reason for us to put him in the lineup and set him back, so he’s not 100 per cent. Our expectation is that come next Wednesday or Thursday, that he will be ready to go. There’s always a chance things don’t heal, but our expectation is that he’s at 100 per cent soon, so we’re not going to risk that,” Maurice said.
Maurice said he expects to get Manitoba Moose No. 1 goaltender Eric Comrie in a game this week, but wouldn’t say which one that would be. The most obvious might be tonight in Minnesota, with the Jets on a back-to-back.
As for Josh Morrissey, he’s also expected to be ready for the playoffs, but is unlikely to see action this week. The top-pairing defenceman, out since Feb. 24 with a shoulder injury, was a full participant in Monday’s morning skate with his teammates. He wore a yellow no-contact jersey, but was moving around and handling the puck with confidence.
“He’s back skating, feeling strong and shooting pucks hard. He’s not far off, but I’d put him in the Laurent Brossoit category, too. We’ll take the extra three or four days of rest. He’s been training real hard and says he feels great and his legs feel great, so we want to make sure we can maximize that,” said Maurice, who doesn’t believe Morrissey will need a regular-season game to get ready.
“I don’t think there’s a big enough value to that,” he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.