Disappointed but determined Jets ready to face the music in Nashville

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It would be a stretch to suggest they'd all turned their frowns upside-down. But it's safe to say the Winnipeg Jets put on a brave face Tuesday as they returned to work following a disappointing Game 6 defeat to the Nashville Predators.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/05/2018 (1676 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It would be a stretch to suggest they’d all turned their frowns upside-down. But it’s safe to say the Winnipeg Jets put on a brave face Tuesday as they returned to work following a disappointing Game 6 defeat to the Nashville Predators.

"We didn't have a 'rah-rah jack 'em up' speech. The video wasn't the fine things we did. But you try to build that emotional base," says Jets coach Paul Maurice. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Everybody came to the rink in a bad mood. And then you leave in a better mood,” coach Paul Maurice said following an off-ice workout and video session at Bell MTS Place. “We didn’t have a ‘rah-rah jack ’em up’ speech. The video wasn’t the fine things we did. But you try to build that emotional base.”

Monday’s 4-0 loss denied the Jets a chance to move into the Western Conference final and sets up a winner-take-all Game 7 in enemy territory Thursday. Vegas awaits the winner, with the next series set to begin Saturday night either in Nashville or Winnipeg, who will be viewed as the favourites to move on to the Stanley Cup final.

“All good. The sun came up this morning,” said veteran centre Paul Stastny. The Jets will return to the practice ice Wednesday before flying to Nashville later in the day to prepare for the ultimate elimination game.

“Good mood. We’ve got a chance to play Game 7 to clinch the series. This is what we play hockey for,” said forward Mathieu Perreault. “We were able to do that all year, put a loss behind us and move forward. And it’s no different for this game coming up. Whatever happened before doesn’t mean anything.”

While coming up far short in such a big game no doubt stings, players and coaches said Tuesday they haven’t lost sight of the big picture. Taking down the NHL’s No. 1 team during the regular season was never going to be easy.

They failed in their first attempt. Now they get one more in a building where they’ve already won twice in this series.

“I think when we get to that Game 7 we know it’s all on the line and nothing in the past is going to bother us. We can’t let it. This is going to be the most fun game we’re gonna play and I think a lot of us are going to enjoy ourselves,” said goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

“We’ve gotten here for a reason. We’ve played our game and we’ve been successful in our game. We can’t change that now. We’ve got to keep doing the same things. You know what, it’s all on the line and we’ve got to bring it.”

Visiting teams have won four of the six games in the series, and nobody has been able to string together two consecutive wins. There have been tight-checking games and wide-open games. Blowouts on both sides.

"It's the final game for one team. So, there’s lot of emotion, lots of excitement. But there’s definitely a calmness to it. There’s a finality coming. It brings out the best I think," Jets coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Whatever momentum seems to build up during a game is gone by the time the puck drops on the next one.

“That’s playoffs. I think someone said earlier this year (that) on our team there’s no momentum. Would you rather lose in overtime or lose 10-0? A loss is a loss. You start fresh the next day and vice-versa if you win. That’s the beauty of playoff hockey, and that’s what makes it so tough, physically and mentally,” said Stastny.

“When you’re playing the best team in the Western Conference, the two best teams, I think most people probably would have wanted this, I think most people would have predicted it would have gone six or seven games and that it’s going to go back and forth. And that’s the way it is.”

Nashville did a terrific job of wiping away the memories of a 6-2 loss on home ice in Game 5, and now Winnipeg will try to do the same after their Game 6 performance.

“I think we’ve been prepared well and done a good job of fixing the things we have to fix in a loss and throwing it away and starting fresh,” said Stastny. “I think we’ve done a good job of not getting too high or too low after games and always focusing on the next one.”

Maurice has coached a pair of Game 7s in his career and come out on top both times — once in regulation and once in overtime.

“There’s absolutely a different feel to it, right? Because it’s the final game for one team. So, there’s lot of emotion, lots of excitement. But there’s definitely a calmness to it. There’s a finality coming. It brings out the best I think,” he said Tuesday. 

“I don’t know, three days before Christmas, two days before Christmas, it’s not there, it’s not Christmas Eve, but you know it’s coming. And maybe it happens when you get older, things that are really fun in the year you look more and more forward to. So this would be one of those things for me. A Game 7. It’s a whole lot of excitement, a whole lot of fun. Tremendous amount of focus. You’re not thinking about tomorrow, you’re not thinking about, ‘Am I benching that guy?’ You’re like, ‘Let’s see what we got.'”

Stastny also has some big-game experience, going 2-1 in three career seventh games. He’s put up two goals and three assists under that bright spotlight.

Round 3 schedule

The NHL has released the schedule for the Eastern and Western Conference finals — even though all the participants have yet to be decided.

Winnipeg and Nashville will play a winner-take-all Game 7 Thursday night to see who advances to the final four to take on the Vegas Golden Knights.

Washington and Tampa Bay are already through in the east.

If Winnipeg can claim victory, the third-round would start Saturday night at Bell MTS Place.

Here’s the full schedule, with all times central:

GAME 1: Saturday May 12, 6 p.m. in Winnipeg

GAME 2: Monday May 14, 7 p.m. in Winnipeg

GAME 3: Wednesday May 16, 8 p.m. in Vegas

GAME 4: Friday May 18, 7 p.m. in Vegas

GAME 5: Sunday May 20, 2 p.m. in Winnipeg (if necessary)

GAME 6: Tuesday May 22, 8 p.m. in Vegas (if necessary)

GAME 7: Thursday May 24, 7 p.m. in Winnipeg (if necessary)

“I think guys will enjoy it. Any time you’re tied in a series and you feel like it’s a must-win, you just go out there and play your game. There’s going to be butterflies, there’s going to be nerves before the game. If you don’t have that in you, I think you’re losing a love for the game,” he said.

“I think we know what we gotta do. I think you can simplify more by going on the road. We know what we gotta do. We gotta stick together no matter how the game plays out early in the game or later in the game. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that and have done a good job responding after losses.”

As for the rest of the Jets, there’s not a lot of Game 7 experience. Perreault has gone 0-2, Blake Wheeler 0-1 and Tyler Myers 0-1. A few others not expected to play Thursday have limited histories, with Matt Hendricks going 1-2, Shawn Matthias 0-1 and Dmitry Kulikov 0-1. For the others, this will be their first time.

“We’ve got to bring our game and we’ve got to bring confidence, and we’ve got to stick to it, we can’t strive away from it, we know it’s going to be a fight. That’s our goal,” said Hellebuyck. “It’s all on the line and you’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything you can. Everything you’ve got, you’ve got to put it all in one game.”

Perreault said this is the best team he’s ever been a part of, which gives him reason for optimism heading into such a clutch showdown.

“Now it’s do-or-die. It’s everything it takes. Everything it takes to keep it out of your own net. It’s going to be a battle. We’ve got to be prepared for that,” he said. “Take it as one period at a time. Don’t look at we’ve got to win this game. We’ve got to win this next shift, this next period. It’s going to take everybody’s greatest effort. It’s going to take everything. You’ve just got to bring it.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 9:08 AM CDT: Fixes typo.

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