The veteran's mood was lifted Saturday as he scored twice in the Winnipeg Jets' 5-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
"It's hard. Your season's on the line," said Stempniak, who has five goals and three assists since joining the Jets. "Every game right now is crucial to us being in the playoffs and we're all aware of that. But the coaches have been preaching that, hopefully, we'll be playing bigger games as we go along so we've got to get used to playing them now.
"Get used to the pressure, manage it and at the same time have fun, which is an easy thing to say, but hard to do at times."
Stempniak was acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers in March. He's playing his 10th NHL season with his seventh club and has been to the post-season three times.
The Jets (40-28-12), who were playing without Dustin Byfuglien as he sat out the first game of a four-game suspension, have 92 points. They regained the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, but it could be temporary depending on Saturday's other games.
It's the first 40-win season for the franchise since it re-located from Atlanta in 2011.
Mathieu Perreault chipped in with three assists, while Jim Slater, Michael Frolik and Mark Scheifele also scored as Winnipeg ended a four-game homestand 2-2.
"Matty (Perreault), from the short time I've played with him, he's a catalyst," Stempniak said. "He goes out there and he's in the mix, he's on the puck, he makes plays. It's a huge asset to have him back in the lineup."
Alexandre Burrows had a pair of goals for Vancouver (45-29-5), while Daniel Sedin added a goal and two assists and Henrik Sedin contributed a power-play goal and an assist.
Ondrej Pavelec made 26 saves for the Jets, while Eddie Lack stopped 31-of-35 shots for the Canucks.
Winnipeg led 3-2 after the first period and 4-3 following the second.
The Jets jumped out to a 2-0 lead by 5:24 of the first when Slater and Frolik scored 50 seconds apart.
"They came out like it was Stanley Cup Game 7," said Burrows, who scored his second goal with Lack pulled at 17:55 of the third.
"They came out really good. They were crisp, they were forechecking, skating hard and they got those two goals. Once we scored that first one I thought we got better as the game went on, but we're still giving up a little bit too many quality chances."
The Canucks sit second in the Pacific Division and have three home games left, beginning Monday against Los Angeles.
The Jets have four regular-season games remaining, starting with a three-game road trip starting in Minnesota on Monday.
"There was no easy breathing there in that one," Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. "But good to win a game like that. That was obvious. A lot of tension there. You could see it in some of the puck movement there, in the third especially."
Maurice predicted the last four games will have the same type of feeling.
"They're all going to be with that kind of intensity and every shift feeling like it can be the thing that can put you over the hump or sets you back," Maurice said.
Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom left the game with just under five minutes remaining. Maurice said he seemed better after the game and they'll know more on Sunday.
Winnipeg had outshot the Canucks 28-18 after two periods.
Stempniak collected his 14th goal of the season and second of the game at 9:36 of the third period after Vancouver turned the puck over in its own end and he picked it up and beat Lack between his legs.
Burrow's 18th goal and second of the game made it 5-4 with 2:05 left.
Daniel Sedin's goal and two assists gives him 13 points in his last 11 games, including three goals and 10 assists.Suggest a correction