Call it unorthodox, call it crazy… but call it a win


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NASHVILLE — We’ll never know what the Winnipeg Jets talked about during their super-duper, top secret practice on Thursday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/04/2018 (1865 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NASHVILLE — We’ll never know what the Winnipeg Jets talked about during their super-duper, top secret practice on Thursday.

But presumably it wasn’t, ‘So guys, here’s the plan: let’s get outhustled, outmuscled and historically outshot in the first game of the biggest series in the history of Jets 2.0.”

Because that’d be crazy, right?

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, top, scrambles to block a shot as Nashville Predators center Calle Jarnkrok, of Sweden, watches for the rebound during the first period Friday in Nashville. Hellebuyck made 47 saves in a game where the Jets were beaten in just about every statistic except the one that matters most – the score.

Crazy like a fox, as it turns out.

Like a boxer who lets his opponent pound on him at will, reckoning sooner or later the guy’s arms will get tired, the Jets got shellacked Friday night in every aspect of the game except on the scoreboard, authoring one of the most unlikely 4-1 victories you’ll ever see on a night their netminder, Connor Hellebuyck, was under siege from the opening faceoff.

Hellebuyck turned back 47 of 48 shots and the Jets defied long odds — not to mention all conventional current thinking on puck-possession stats and what it takes to win a hockey game — to seize a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and take home-ice advantage back from the Predators.

The numbers from this night told the story, precisely because these kinds of numbers never go together: outshot 20-4 in the first period — that’s a Predators franchise record for shots in a period during the playoffs — the Jets led 1-0 on a Brandon Tanev goal.

Outshot 34-9 through the first 30 minutes, the Jets took a 2-0 lead on a Paul Stastny goal midway through the second period.

And then with the shots at 35-14 in favour of Nashville, the Jets made it 3-0 near the end of the second period on Mark Scheifele’s first of two goals (the other was an empty-netter).

Nashville made things mildly interesting with a goal early in the third period, but it was both too little and too late in a game that was played in upside-down land on a night the home team outshot the visitors 48-19 but somehow lost by three goals.

Now to be clear, it wasn’t so much that Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne was bad, although he certainly wasn’t great and was lifted after two periods in favour of backup Juuse Saros. It wasn’t even that Hellebuyck was spectacular — he played extremely well, but was also very fortunate on a night defenceman Roman Josi fanned twice at open nets and Preds sniper Filip Forsberg rang the post while staring at the most gaping net he might ever see.

Just chalk this win up to the idea that sometimes in the marathon that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s better to be lucky than good, so long as you don’t make a habit of it.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice watches a lot of film, but he’d have been wise to have burned this one at the final horn Friday night and started fresh with a simple message to his team, ‘Starting now, if we do everything the opposite of the way we did it Friday night, we should probably be OK.’

We’ll get to see for ourselves what Maurice’s message is this afternoon when the Jets practise at Bridgestone Arena in preparation for Game 2 Sunday night.

The Jets are trying out something new today — they’re actually following league rules and letting us all know when and where they’re practising.

Unbeknownst to anyone but themselves, the Jets held a secret — and entirely improper — practice on Thursday after telling the media the club was having no availability that day.

The Jets would have probably gotten away with it too, except Freep beat writer Mike McIntyre asked Maurice on Friday following the Jets’ morning skate whether the day off on Thursday might be disruptive to Hellebuyck’s finally honed pre-game routine.

Maurice let slip that, well, actually, Hellebuyck did skate on Thursday — and so did the rest of the Jets.

“I was there,” Maurice smiled. “The stands were empty.”

Now, closed practices are nothing new in football, where coaches are notoriously paranoid and are allowed to close a certain number of practices every season.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Neither Nashville Predators' Roman Josi or Filip Forsberg could stop Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele from scoring his second goal of the night on the empty net, Friday.

But there is no such thing as a closed practice in hockey — in fact, it is expressly forbidden by league rules to hold one.

The Jets’ explanation to the Professional Hockey Writers Association on Friday was that they never technically closed practice on Thursday; they simply never told anyone when, where or even that they were holding one.

That’s too cute by half, the Jets know it and they will get a fine from the league if they ever do something like that again.

Now, to be clear, I don’t care if I ever cover another practice again. Indeed, when I am on my deathbed, I will reflect on the cumulative weeks of my life I’ve spent watching practice over the decades — and I will wish that I had every single one of those mind-numbing minutes back.

But I raise the whole episode only to illustrate just how paranoid this Jets team has become as these playoffs continue and the stakes continue to rise.

Secrecy has always been the default position of a Jets organization that has been one of the most buttoned-down organizations in the NHL since Day 1, but even the most basic information in these playoffs is now a state secret.

Injury updates — always vague to the point of uselessness anyway — have become non-existent with this club. Every player for every game is now a “game-time decision,” according to Maurice

And even the identity of the backup goaltender — a man who will never play as long as Hellebuyck has a pulse, and maybe not even then — is now a secret apparently, with Maurice refusing to say on Friday whether Steve Mason was healthy enough to dress Friday night after getting hurt during the game-day skate prior to Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild. (He was.)

If this is how paranoid this team has become one game into the second round of the playoffs, just imagine where we’ll be if they ever get to a Stanley Cup final?

Closed practices? The Jets just might close the games and stage the whole Stanley Cup final in a darkened arena.

It’s all a futile exercise. There’s no keeping secrets — none that matter anyway — when you’re this deep into a playoff run and your team is under the microscope like Winnipeg is since they became the last team in Canada capable of ending a Stanley Cup drought north of the border that will reach an even quarter-century this year if the Jets don’t do something about it.

And who’s kidding who anyway — if the Jets’ secret wasn’t out prior to Friday night, it definitely is now:

this Winnipeg Jets team is so good, they even win when they’re awful.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.


Updated on Friday, April 27, 2018 10:52 PM CDT: Adds second photo

Updated on Friday, April 27, 2018 11:20 PM CDT: Updates photos

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