Big, physical and hard to play against

Rugged third line counted on to get Jets’ motor running


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RALEIGH — They are the identity line of the Winnipeg Jets, a trio of rugged, hard-working players who help get the engine revving — and hopefully leave their opponents stuck in first gear.

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RALEIGH — They are the identity line of the Winnipeg Jets, a trio of rugged, hard-working players who help get the engine revving — and hopefully leave their opponents stuck in first gear.

The importance of Mason Appleton, Adam Lowry and Morgan Barron is only going to grow as the games get tighter and the stage gets bigger down the stretch.

“Our line knows what we are good at,” Appleton told the Free Press in a one-on-one chat Tuesday morning at PNC Arena prior to facing the Carolina Hurricanes.

Their strengths were certainly on display Sunday night in Tampa Bay when they played a critical role at both ends of the ice in a 3-2 victory over the Lightning. Lowry, Appleton and Barron helped keep Tampa’s big guns in check, including some tremendous work on three penalty kills. Then they teamed up for the eventual game-winning goal scored by Barron

“We can play fast, play strong and simplify our game. That’s how we create a lot of our offence. I think that goal that Barron scored is a good example of that,” Appleton explained.

“It’s Lows making a good play along the wall, (Barron) making another good play on the wall, me using my speed and getting in a race, winning the race and then (defenceman Brenden Dillon) jumping in the play and (Barron) finishing it off. So I think that was just kind of everything our line can do, kind of in 10 seconds.”

Winnipeg’s top six is filled with plenty of sizzle, with the likes of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nino Niederreiter, Blake Wheeler and, once he returns from injury as early as Thursday night against Boston, Pierre-Luc Dubois. Vladislav Namestnikov, currently taking Dubois’ second-line centre spot, is in that mix as well.

The third line brings plenty of steak. Which, not surprisingly, brings a smile to the face of an old school coach like Rick Bowness.

“The intensity picks up. And the physicality picks up,” Bowness said of hockey this time of year and into the playoffs.

“They’re three big guys, we expect them to be physical. We’re not expecting some of the guys in the top six to run over anybody. That’s not their game, but we certainly expect that line to be big, physical and hard to play against. They’re also in a shutdown role, which they’re very good at. But their other parts of the game, if they’re forechecking and they’re physical they’re going to create offence, which they did the other night.”

Unfortunately, Bowness hasn’t been able to lean on the trio as much as he’d like. Appleton has missed 41 games with a pair of injuries, while Barron was sidelined for a dozen earlier in the season.

“We went into camp and right from day one, that was going to be our line,” said Bowness. “Then with injuries. Morgan missed quite a bit, Apple’s missed an awful lot. You just gotta give them time to get that chemistry, but that’s a line we count on with a lot of responsibilities.”

Preventing goals is priority No. 1, but Appleton said they’d like to chip in a little more. Sunday’s game was filled with chances, including three stellar ones that Appleton just missed converting.

“Sometimes, that’s how the game of hockey works,” he said. “I guess it’s a good thing you’re getting those chances. But you leave a game like that, such a tight game, frustrated that you could have helped the game by yourself. I definitely spent a bit of time thinking about a few of those, but that’s life. You know they get paid, too, so I’ll find a way to put one in the net here and move on.”

Heading into action against the Hurricanes, Appleton had 10 points (two goals and eight assists) through 26 contests. Barron had 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 55 games, while Lowry had 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists in all 67 games).

The trio got another injury scare on Saturday in Florida, when Lowry suffered a lower-body ailment in the third period of an eventual 5-4 overtime victory over the Panthers. He was noticeably limping after the game and questionable to play 24 hours later. Not surprisingly, he found a way.

“I wasn’t surprised. Adam’s a warrior,” said Appleton. “He’s played in this league for a long time and he plays a really hard game. He doesn’t miss much time. You see him questionable in the morning but in the back of your mind you know there’s probably a 90 per cent chance that he’s going. I saw in warmups kind of testing himself out. I went over to him and said ‘You good?’ And he’s like ‘Oh yeah, for sure.” That’s the Lows we all know in this locker room. He’s a huge part of our team and it was good to have him.”

Now the line will look to stay healthy, while doing everything possible to keep the motor running.

“We’re all aware of the standings right now. As a line we’re just going to do what we can do to control our team’s success,” said Appleton.

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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