The 23 musketeers

It's all for one and one for all with these guys

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There is a frenzied feel to the scene unfolding around Lee Stempniak. A media scrum around rookie Adam Lowry one stall over crowds the veteran's workspace and everyone -- players, equipment guys, Winnipeg Jets staff of all kinds -- are anxious to get on the charter and be wheels up for Anaheim.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/04/2015 (2794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is a frenzied feel to the scene unfolding around Lee Stempniak. A media scrum around rookie Adam Lowry one stall over crowds the veteran’s workspace and everyone — players, equipment guys, Winnipeg Jets staff of all kinds — are anxious to get on the charter and be wheels up for Anaheim.

Stempniak is no different, hurriedly stuffing his gear into an equipment bag Tuesday afternoon for another shot at Stanley Cup glory with his seventh different National Hockey League organization. So it’s with that kind of experience in mind — the dude has played 708 games in his career, after all — that one last media interloper approaches seeking an answer to this basic question:

Why has this worked, so far?

Bill Boyce / The Associated Press Files Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn is congratulated for his winning goal against the St. Louis Blues Tuesday. He later displayed his emotions in the locker-room.

And how did this Jets team that fell on its collective lips with a 2-5 start to the season and was very much in the early Connor McDavid discussion in October somehow manage to set a club record for points and become a trendy dark horse playoff pick?

“This is a team in the truest sense of the word,” Stempniak began. “Everyone is important on the team, everyone contributes. And everyone gets along really well. This is one of the tightest-knit teams I’ve ever been on and it carries over onto the ice. There’s a lot of character and resiliency. It seems like no matter what obstacle we’ve faced — or they faced before I got here — they’ve risen to the challenge.

“The way we play, there seems to be a general happiness for whoever contributes. This a really unselfish group. There’s no cliques, there’s no divisions and I think it shows on the ice. If you care for someone off the ice it makes it that much easier to have their back on the ice.”

Now, that may all sound like it comes straight from the set of Dr. Phil, but it’s been a common refrain from everyone in this fight dating back to October not to have at least some validity.

All of this isn’t something that developed instantly, but was forged and hardened during a rash of injuries that plagued the defensive corps in December and January to another scourge that stole Mathieu Perreault, Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little for a good chunk of the stretch run.

Why has this worked? It’s a lot of things, really. It’s coach Paul Maurice with his steadying hand on the helm. It’s GM Kevin Cheveldayoff shaking up the dressing room by dealing two players once considered cornerstones in Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian for instant contributors in Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, and adding important role players such as Stempniak, Jay Harrison and Jiri Tlusty.

It’s been the vital contributions of Jets 2.0 draft picks Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Lowry.

But it’s also been a core — long portrayed as chronic underachievers — dragging this outfit to the regular-season finish line. It’s Ondrej Pavelec blanking opponents in the most impressive stretch of his career. It’s Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik, all previous Cup champs, providing leadership.

It’s Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, Mark Stuart, Stafford, Myers… heck, it’s everybody. As Maurice has so often said, everyone has had a piece in this team’s success.

“Our expectations have always been high for ourselves, especially the guys who have been here since the beginning,” said Stuart. “We knew we had the tools to make a good team, it was just a matter of finding the right way to put them together.

“The thing I’ll say about our group is they’re welcomed right away and seem to fit in right away. That’s the sign of a good team and a good group. When (Myers, Tlusty, Stafford and Stempniak) came in, it seemed after a week they had already been here for a while. They fit right in.”

All of this, of course, will mean zilch-o at puck drop Thursday night at the Honda Center in Game 1. But if the playoffs are as much about a collective belief as they are about talent and grit, then the Jets open their first playoff series with a healthy dose of all of the above.

Why has this worked? It’s a lot of things — but maybe one, above all.

“We know we have some elite guys, but we also know we’re a team that needs everybody,” Stuart reasoned. “It’s more fun that way, anyways, when everybody has a piece in it. And we’re going to need everybody now.

“That’s the best thing about the playoffs, too. Anybody can be a hero. And it’s especially true on our team.”

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:00 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

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