Although things were looking bleak after being blown out by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, there was still a glimmer of hope for the Jets with a big game against the Washington Capitals on Friday, followed by a tough test in Nashville against the Predators on Saturday.
It was a given that Winnipeg needed to take both of these games to stay in the hunt, but they failed. As remarkable as the comeback win against the Caps was, they still spotted them a point and failed to make up much ground. Losing to the Preds the next day did not help either, as now the Jets sit six points behind the Buffalo Sabres for the final playoff spot in the East and four points behind the Capitals. With seven games remaining, the playoffs are looking more like a long shot.
Even though the dreams of the playoffs may be fading away, let’s take a look at one of the bright spots for the Jets in their inaugural season.
The Jets showed a lot of guts in a thrilling overtime win over Washington, where Tim Stapleton was the hero with an assist and the game-winner in overtime. Stapleton added another goal against Nashville on Saturday and now has 11 goals and 15 assists in 56 games with Winnipeg this season.
The Forest Park, IL native has been a nice story for the Jets this season, emerging as a useful player who can come up big at times, as evidenced by his three game-winners this season. At 29 years-old, Stapleton is getting his first extended look in the NHL this year, after some solid years in the AHL and short stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers over the past few seasons.
Stapleton has bounced around quite a bit between “The A” and “The Show,” but may finally be finding his niche as a role player in Winnipeg. One of the smaller players in the NHL at 5’9” 180lbs., Stapleton has earned his keep by playing bigger than his size, playing responsible minutes and chipping in offensively when he can. There’s no doubt he’s been a pleasant surprise this season.
Without a whole lot of star power on the roster, the Jets need players like Stapleton to step up and make things happen at times. It remains to be seen whether Stapleton can build on his strong 2011-12 campaign, but he will be an interesting player to keep an eye on down the stretch and into the offseason. Stapleton is making $525K on a one-year deal and is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I would like to see the Jets bring him back as he’s earned his shot in the NHL.