Jets’ third line reunited and excited

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Defence? Check. Scoring? Check. Good health? Check that one, too.

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They may not have the glitz or glam of hockey’s rockstars, but with the Winnipeg Jets’ third line now healthy, it is precisely what the team needs from them heading into beard-growing time.

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“I think it’s huge,” Jets right-winger Mason Appleton said, as Nino Niederreiter returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing five games with a cut to his Achilles tendon.

“There’s such thing as too much rest this time of year,” he said. “Obviously, you want to find that perfect balance but, to get him back and to get our line feeling good and whole these last couple games, it’ll go a long way for us.”

After Niederreiter confirmed he felt good to go on Monday, Appleton said he’s excited to click with his full-time linemates.

Along with Jets captain Adam Lowry, they form a trio that has combined for 44 goals and 59 assists for 103 points.

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“I think (Lowry) and (Niederreiter) are two awesome players,” he said. “There’s so much similarities between our line… or between all of us and then I think it just goes to show how we can play against anyone in this league and usually do a solid job.”

The line played together 66 of the first 80 games this season, which has seen the team cross the 100-point threshold for only the second time in franchise history.

Even in Niederreiter’s recent absence, the line produced three goals and four assists over the past two games, going plus-eight.

Three of the line’s points in the past two contests came from David Gustafsson, who drew into the lineup in Niederreiter’s absence for shutout wins in Dallas and Colorado to close out Winnipeg’s recent four-game road trip.

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The Swede hasn’t been an everyday player on the team, appearing in only 38 games this season. But Gustafsson’s recent contributions haven’t gone unnoticed.

“He did a heck of a job,” Appleton said. “Whenever you’re coming into the lineup like that, it’s not the easiest task. And he played his butt off, and he was very effective in his role.”

The line has produced offensively, but Appleton says it shines most defensively.

“We’re not a line that’s always gonna fill the scoresheet, but I think we’re gonna defend really hard,” he said. “We can shut down a lot of good lines in this league.”

That will be put to the test soon, with the Jets guaranteed a date with the Avs in the first round of the playoffs. Colorado paces the Central Division in goals scored, led by the daunting trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Mikko Rantanen.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Jets had allowed the fewest goals in the NHL with 194, four fewer than the Florida Panthers, the only other team to keep the total under 200.

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