Tampa Bay Sports Day

NHL: Jets, Lightning Battle on Short Rest

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Two teams hoping to vault back into the playoff race will do battle at the MTS Centre on Saturday night, but only one of them is going to have a good night’s sleep.

The Winnipeg Jets got in their SUVs and drove home after their 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night while the Tampa Bay Lightning had to drive to the Minneapolis airport following their 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild, fly an hour north to the Manitoba capital and bus to their hotel.

The Jets (25-28-4) have lost three consecutive games on the heels of their only three-game winning streak of the season and sit fifth in the Central Division, six points back of a wild card spot.

“It’s always nicer to play a back-to-back when you’re sleeping in your own bed,” said captain Blake Wheeler.

The Lightning (24-24-7) have lost four of their past six games and are sixth in the Atlantic Division, five points out a playoff spot. Neither team will have a pre-game skate Saturday morning.

Connor Hellebuyck will make his second consecutive start in the Jets net after newly-anointed No. 1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec left Wednesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild with a lower-body injury.

The sophomore netminder was pleased with her performance on Friday, in which he stopped 31 of 34 shots. (The Blackhawks scored a pair of empty-net goals.)

“I’m going to go out and play my game. I’m not going to change. I’m going to get back to what makes me me,” he said. “Not only was I tracking (the puck), but I was reading the play pretty well. Not falling behind it, but reading the play and getting ahead of it.”

With about the only thing consistent about the Jets this season being their inconsistency, Jets coach Paul Maurice didn’t want to make any excuses for his team’s performance.

“The ability to drive and dominate, to get on any kind of runs, one piece of your game has to be elite at different times. So, you’re goaltender has to get real hot for a few games and then special teams have to get hot for a few games and then that ability to drive in night in and night out gives you that. Yeah, there’s some consistency that’s not there in our game. That’s true,” he said.

The Lightning have picked up five points in its past three games, thanks largely to their goaltending, which has been up and down for most of the year.

Russian Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves Friday in what may have been his best game of the season and Ben Bishop shut out the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

“We’ve got belief in these guys,” coach Jon Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times. “Here we are, in crunch time, and these guys are giving us a chance to win every night. And that’s what we need.