WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Fans of the Winnipeg Jets are about to find out if their team is for real or just a tease.
After winning a pair of games on the weekend to pull within three points of the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Jets will need to steal some points from last year's Stanley Cup combatants to prove they are for real.
The runner-up San Jose Sharks come to town on Monday, followed by the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and the red-hot Calgary Flames, winners of seven consecutive games, on Saturday to wrap up a season-high, six-game homestand.
The Jets are 5-1-2 in their past eight games and are tantalizingly close to the playoff line once again, but each previous time they reached this stage over the past couple of months, they fell back.
They do, however, appear to be peaking at the right time and are getting contributions from up and down their lineup in their playoff push. Six different players scored goals Saturday in a 6-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, including Finnish phenom Patrik Laine, who collected his 32nd goal of the year to pull within two of league leader Sidney Crosby. The Jets are 17-3-4 in games in which Laine scores.
Despite leading all rookies with 32 goals and 58 points even after missing eight games with a concussion, the right winger is widely viewed as still trailing Toronto's Auston Matthews (31 goals, 55 points) in the race for the Calder Trophy, symbolizing excellence among all first-year players. The argument among the Toronto-centric media, which has a disproportionate number of votes for the year-end awards, is that Matthews, as a center, has a better all-around game.
One joke circulating on social media on Sunday was that if Laine scores 10 more goals than Matthews, wins the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer and cures cancer, he would have a 50-50 shot at winning the Calder.
At the other end of the ice, the Jets' likely starter in net Monday is Connor Hellebuyck, who came within a few seconds of posting back-to-back shutouts on the weekend. He blanked the St. Louis Blues in a 3-0 win Friday, then led Winnipeg to a 6-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
"He's had real good results when we've had a couple of days where he's been able to work," coach Paul Maurice told the Winnipeg Free Press. "He's like most of these guys -- they're young players, they need to be on the ice working on things. And each time we've been able to do that for him, he's come back real strong."
The Sharks arrived in Winnipeg early Monday morning after falling 3-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday in Saint Paul.
"It wasn't our best game," San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said. "I think we got a little better in the second (period), and (in) the third there wasn't much either way, and we were pressing a little bit. It's something we can build off this game, and we're going to have to be a little bit better next time."
San Jose's newly acquired right winger, Jannik Hansen, is still dealing with visa issues after his trade from the Vancouver Canucks prior to last week's deadline. He did not play against the Wild, and his availability for Monday night uncertain.
Despite the loss, the Sharks (38-19-7) are still leading the Pacific Division and are a virtual lock to make the playoffs. They will be looking to avoid their first back-to-back regulation losses since the middle of January.