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Jets ready for Bedard, Blackhawks with visit to Chicago

Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor (81) and Chicago Blackhawks' Connor Bedard (98) collide as during third period NHL action in Winnipeg, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (John Woods/The Canadian Press) Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor (81) and Chicago Blackhawks' Connor Bedard (98) collide as during third period NHL action in Winnipeg, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)
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There is going to be a whole lot of hockey coming up for the Winnipeg Jets as the team will essentially be playing every other day until the end of the season.

The stretch starts Friday night as Winnipeg makes a pit stop in Chicago to face the Blackhawks.

With the end of the regular season drawing nearer every day, Head Coach Rick Bowness made the switch to optional skates for the rest of the year to ensure players who are banged up can get the rest they needed.

Nikolaj Ehlers was one of those players on Thursday. Bowness said the forward is dealing with some minor nagging injuries.

Ehlers skated Friday morning and said he is good to go for the game, but he noted it important to take care of the body when needed.

"Especially with the month of March we're going into – there's probably not going to be a lot practices, playing every other day and the back-to-backs. It's about keeping the body right and working on it and giving it the rest that you can so we can play at our best during the game," said Ehlers.

As for the task at hand Friday, the Jets are trying to secure the season series over Chicago – who sits last in the NHL standings.

Despite the dismal record, the Blackhawks have played Winnipeg tough this season and took one of the contests in overtime in December.

Bowness and Ehlers credit stellar goaltending when these two teams clash, but they note there is also the Connor Bedard effect.

"It's on-ice awareness. You better know he's on the ice because when he gets the puck, something's going to happen. He will make something happen out of absolutely nothing," said Bowness. "When you think you've got everybody covered he makes these blind passes. But they're blind to us, not him. He sees people, and he sees plays develop. So he's got an incredible hockey IQ and great vision out there."

Bedard has flashed his brilliance in every game he has played against Winnipeg – scoring in his first game against the Jets and then providing both goals in the 2-1 win at the end of December. He missed the last matchup between these two teams due to a jaw injury.

While it may be hard not to puck watch when he has control, Ehlers said the best way to beat him is to play a structured game.

"I think for us, the way we've been playing all year, we haven't focused on one guy and we don't want to start doing that, even though he's been pretty good against us. So we want to keep getting into our game and playing the way that we want to play for a full 60 and then I'm sure that we can get out of here with two points.

The Jets and Blackhawks will get underway at 7:30 p.m. CT from the United Center in Chicago.

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