The Winnipeg Jets haven't been very consistent during their playoff push, but they have a prime opportunity to get on track with Tuesday's visit to the San Jose Sharks.
Since the Jets (41-30-3, 85 points) are seven points behind the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division, the wild-card race is looking like Winnipeg's most realistic route into the postseason. The Jets hold the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, sitting four points ahead of the Calgary Flames and five points ahead of the Nashville Predators.
Being in a playoff position gives the Jets some comfort, but the team hasn't helped itself by mostly treading water over the last few weeks. Winnipeg is a modest 6-5-1 in its last 12 games, including Saturday's 4-1 loss to the red-hot Los Angeles Kings.
"I think everybody is frustrated right now. Everybody wants to win," Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "This time of year, we can't drop too many points. ... We have to bring our A-game every night."
On paper, San Jose (19-39-15, 53 points) seems like an ideal opponent for a points-hungry Jets team. The Sharks have the worst record in the NHL, are mired in a nine-game (0-6-3) winless drought and are only 1-10-4 in their last 15 games.
That lone check in the Sharks' win column? A 3-2 overtime victory in Winnipeg on March 6, meaning that the Jets can't afford to take San Jose lightly.
This could mean yet another start for Connor Hellebuyck, who leads all goalies with 57 games played this season. The Jets might start backup David Rittich against the Sharks, but with Rittich struggling to an .850 save percentage over his last four games, Winnipeg might prefer to keep riding with Hellebuyck until a postseason berth is firmly secured.
San Jose has also been indirectly hurting the Jets by dropping games to Winnipeg's playoff competition. The Sharks' most recent loss was a 5-3 setback to the Flames on Saturday.
Erik Karlsson recorded two assists against Calgary, giving him 68 helpers for the season. Karlsson's outstanding campaign has seen him establish new Sharks team records for assists and points (90) by a defenseman in a season. He has also recorded the 27th 90-point season by a defenseman in NHL history, and there's plenty of time left for Karlsson to keep climbing the leaderboard.
"I really hope he can get 100 (points), I think that'd mean a lot to him," Sharks captain Logan Couture said. "It'd mean a lot to every guy in this room. He's had an incredible year."
Since Kaapo Kahkonen started against the Flames, James Reimer is likely to face Winnipeg as per San Jose's usual goaltender rotation.
Dubois scored a power-play goal against the Kings, and the Jets hope that can spark some momentum with the extra attacker. Winnipeg is only 1-for-27 on the power play in its last seven games, and will be challenged by a Sharks team that is one of the NHL's better penalty-killers.
Tuesday is the final stop of the Jets' three-game road trip against California teams. Friday's game with the Detroit Red Wings begins a five-game homestand for the Jets that will conclude with a visit from the Sharks on April 10.
--Field Level Media