Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - No excuse will be good enough if the Winnipeg Jets miss the playoffs again.
The Jets have flirted with the postseason since moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 campaign, but the MTS Centre has yet to host a postseason contest.
The franchise has five games left to gain entrance to the playoffs. Four of those contests will have Dustin Byfuglien watching from the press box, but even the loss of the game-changing defenseman is no excuse to miss out on the postseason.
On Thursday, Byfuglien was handed a four-game suspension by the NHL for cross- checking New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller in the back of the neck during Tuesday's 3-2 home loss.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault called the play "violent" and "deliberate." In the video explanation of the suspension, the NHL used words like "dangerous" and "excessive" to describe Byfuglien's actions.
He clearly earned the suspension and it could have been a longer ban if Miller was injured on the play. As it stands, Byfuglien won't be allowed back on the ice until April 11 when Winnipeg hosts Calgary on the final day of the regular season.
With the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference expected to go down to the wire, losing the big, talented blueliner for a chunk of games is not ideal. But the Jets have slid by without Byfuglien recently and can do so again.
Byfuglien missed most of March with an upper-body injury, sitting out nine games before returning on March 26. The Jets went 6-3-0 during the stretch and also matched its longest winning streak of the season with five consecutive victories from March 14-23.
"It does help," head coach Paul Maurice said of his team knowing it can get by without Byfuglien. "Wish we didn't have to the last time, but the fact it's recent memory, that we did have success without Dustin in our lineup, that's a positive."
Byfuglien is a unique talent in the NHL, as the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Minnesotan combines size, skating ability and a heavy slap shot to terrorize the opposition. There is no way to replace that exact skill set, but the Jets boast excellent depth on the back end thanks in part to in-season trades for Jay Harrison and Tyler Myers.
Harrison is the guy who will draw into the lineup during Byfuglien's suspension. He has two goals and three assists in 30 games since coming to Winnipeg in a December trade with Carolina.
"(Harrison) covers a lot of ice and can get in close plays quickly, which helps the style of game that we want to play," Maurice said.
In addition to the ability to cope with injuries, the Jets have grown accustomed to dealing with controversy this season. It seems like a long time ago, but it was only February when embattled forward Evander Kane clashed with teammates and team staff before getting dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade that landed Myers.
However, the team knows all the up and downs of 2014-15 will be worth it if the Jets can bear down and get the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since the Atlanta Thrashers made their one and only postseason trip in the spring of 2007.
Still, getting the job done will be no easy task.
Although they are tied in points with Los Angeles heading into Friday's action, the Kings currently hold the last wild card spot in the Western Conference. L.A., which also has five games left, owns the tiebreaker with four more Regulation Overtime Wins (ROW) than the Jets.
Both the Jets and Kings are off Friday before playing home games on Saturday. Winnipeg welcomes the Vancouver Canucks and L.A. is hosting the Colorado Avalanche.
The Jets have something to prove against the Canucks, who are 2-0 in the 2014-15 season series and have won seven of the past eight meetings. After Saturday's home test, Winnipeg will visit Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado during a three-game road trip before capping the season versus the Flames.
Winnipeg's 82nd test of 2014-15 could decide the last playoff spot because Calgary is only one point ahead of L.A. for the third postseason berth from the Pacific Division.
So, it will all come down to how Winnipeg executes during this all-important five-game stretch. For the guys wearing the uniform, there is no time to ponder how the loss of Byfuglien will affect the postseason run.
All that is left to do is grab every possible point and hope for the best.
"This is our season," said Jets forward Bryan Little. "A miniature, five-game season."