The Winnipeg Jets’ playoff chances are slim, but they may have three key players back Saturday night.
The Jets could get a boost if Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian and Jim Slater are all on the ice when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
Winnipeg (32-30-9) trails Phoenix by six points in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Jets are also two points behind Dallas and one behind Vancouver.
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Byfuglien, third among NHL defensemen with 52 points, and Bogosian both sat out Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime victory over Colorado. Byfuglien has a lower-body injury and Bogosian an upper-body ailment.
Slater has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury. If he returns, it will be his first time on the ice as a father after his daughter Wyn was born Wednesday.
Winnipeg has taken five of its last six meetings with Carolina (30-31-9), winning 2-1 on the road Feb. 4 on Chris Thorburn’s winning goal with 63 seconds left.
"We kind of know what they’re all about," Slater said. "They’re a team that’s going to play hard, they’ve got some skilled forwards that can do some damage, make you pay for bad mistakes."
That contest marked Carolina defenseman Ron Hainsey’s first game against the team he spent his previous two seasons with before he signed with the Hurricanes in the offseason. This will be Hainsey’s first time in Winnipeg as a visitor.
"It’s always a little weird to play against former teammates, especially the first time you see them on the ice in a different jersey it’s a little weird," Jets winger Andrew Ladd said. "But I think we’ve been around the game long enough to understand that happens and we’re pretty used to it."
Ladd scored twice Wednesday and Blake Wheeler added a goal and two assists. Wheeler has eight points over his last four games.
Carolina will finish a three-game trip after falling 3-2 at Chicago on Friday. Eric Staal assisted on both goals by Alexander Semin in the Hurricanes’ third loss in four games.
The Hurricanes won 3-1 at Columbus to open this trip Tuesday one day after coach Kirk Muller ripped into his team in practice. The frustration is evident for a club currently on course to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
"We’re fighting, we know where we’re at but you’ve gotta win, you’ve gotta go get results," Staal said. "And it feels like for the most part we’re finding ways to not get the right results instead of get them for whatever reason."
One positive Friday was that the Hurricanes got four players back. Defenseman John-Michael Liles returned after missing six games with a concussion, center Jiri Tlusty came back after sitting out two with a lower-body injury, and center Elias Lindholm and defenseman Justin Faulk played after missing the Columbus game because of illnesses.
While Al Montoya figures to start in goal for Winnipeg, Cam Ward could get the nod for Carolina after Anton Khudobin made 22 saves Friday in his third straight start.