Blue Jackets put 13-game win streak on line against Jets (Dec 29, 2016)
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The Winnipeg Jets have an opportunity to stop the streak -- or simply be the latest victims of the seemingly unstoppable Columbus Blue Jackets.
Winnipeg (17-17-3) welcomes the NHL's hottest team to town Thursday night at the MTS Centre. Columbus (24-5-4) has won 13 straight games, the latest being a 4-3 victory on home ice against Boston on Tuesday.
"It's fun," veteran Blue Jackets forward Scott Hartnell told the Columbus Dispatch following their most recent victory. "But the mental aspect of it around our dressing room ... we're not on Cloud 9, we're not celebrating, we're not on the way to the playoffs."
The Jets are also feeling good about their game, having won four of their last five including an impressive 3-1 decision in Chicago on Tuesday night which several players called one of their most complete efforts of the year. Winnipeg is finally healthy and taking advantage of a more relaxed schedule after playing a record-setting 32 games in the first 60 days of the season.
"We'll see where we're at, playing against the best team in the league right now," center Brian Little told the Winnipeg Free Press following Wednesday's practice. "I think everybody's looking forward to it. There's some excitement in the room to play those guys. We want to keep this thing rolling, but at the same time it'd be nice to beat them, especially the big streak they're on."
Winnipeg aims to win three straight games for the first time this season, but struggles mightily against the Eastern Conference at 5-8-2 this season.
The Jets had as many as nine players out of the lineup because of injury at various points this season, but only defenseman Tyler Myers remains. As a result, Winnipeg sent forwards Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev down to their American Hockey League affiliate Wednesday to make room for the healthy returning bodies.
Columbus hasn't tasted defeat since a Nov. 26 shootout loss to Florida. Their last regulation loss came Nov. 23 against Calgary. Over the past month, they've surged to the top of the NHL standings, thanks to four balanced scoring lines, a top-ranked power play unit and outstanding goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky.
Add it all up and it's been an incredible turnaround for a team that finished 27th overall in the NHL standings last season.
To show how high their own standards have become, Columbus players and coaches found plenty to pick apart following their most recent win against Boston. The Blue Jackets surged to an early 3-0 lead, only to cough it up before captain Nick Foligno scored the game winner in the final frame.
"The way it started, we were like 'Here we go again!'" Foligno told the Columbus Dispatch after the game. "And maybe that was the problem. It's a good lesson for us. We could make every excuse, but it wasn't good enough and we know it."
Connor Hellebuyck is expected to start in net Thursday for the Jets. The Blue Jackets will likely counter with the red-hot Bobrovsky, who leads the NHL with 22 wins this season.