- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2012

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec tried to distance himself from the hype over Friday night’s matchup with the Washington Capitals.

“Another big game,” Pavelec said. “I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest game of the year. It’s not. Just another game. We need the two points.”

Need should be bolded, italicized and lit up with marquee lights. This is truly a must-win game for the Jets, considering they could be as far as six points back of the Capitals in the Eastern Conference playoff chase with a loss.

“Obviously for us [the] chance is to bury them. With a win tonight, we would put lots of separation between us,” Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “They can say all they want, but I’m pretty sure it’s a pretty big game for them.”

Pretty big for the Washington, too. But essential for Winnipeg. Only 11 games (and one head-to-head with Washington) remain for the Jets after Friday night. That’s not a lot of time to make up ground.

There was a special buzz at MTS Centre because of that, something winger Evander Kane jokingly attributed to someone bringing flowers to the rink.

But there’s not much joking around, at least among the Jets. This game is worth just about everything.

“These are games that define your team, and we’re going to see what we’re made of,” Kane said.

MTS Centre already has the reputation as one of the loudest buildings in the NHL. “It’s been wild all year long,” Pavelec said.

But Friday night’s showdown with the Capitals could take it to a whole new level.

“It’s a Friday night in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at the MTS Centre,” Kane said. “You cant ask for much more. It’s pretty exciting.”

Exciting for the Capitals, too, because this is an opportunity to essentially put an end to the Jets as a threat to the final playoff spot in the East.

“If you look at the schedule over the past couple weeks, there have been some really big games,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “But anytime you can put a little bit of separation between a team that’s right on your heels, especially this late in the playoff race, it’s tough to recover from.”

So, of course, yet again, Capitals coach Dale Hunter referred to it as a “playoff game.” And not just any playoff game.

“It’s exciting for the fans and the media and the players know what’s at stake here. Everybody wants to play in the big game,” Hunter said. “As a kid growing up, you always scored the winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final in the seventh game. So it’s like one of those games.”

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