Mark his words

Former coach Maurice says Jets good enough to win Cup


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SUNRISE, Fla. — Paul Maurice isn’t ready to give up on the Winnipeg Jets.

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Paul Maurice isn’t ready to give up on the Winnipeg Jets.

The team’s long-time head coach, who stunned the organization with his surprise resignation during the middle of last season, is now plying his trade with the Florida Panthers. And he quickly jumped to the defence of a struggling Jets squad that limped into FLA Live Arena on Saturday night with just two wins in the last 11 games.

“They’re in an incredible position to win a Stanley Cup. They’re that good,” Maurice said prior to puck drop.

High praise, indeed. And perhaps some hyperbole mixed in for good measure. But how did his former team respond? By going out and beating his new team 5-4 in overtime, dealing the Panthers a critical blow in their own playoff pursuit.

Hey, maybe he’s on to something.

“When you’re in Canada, you peak and fall five times a month,” Maurice said of the “sky is falling” mentality that many fans and pundits likely have about the Jets lately.

“They’ve got one of the very best goaltenders in the league. They’ve got two dominant offensive lines, their bottom six are heavy and play hard and fast, their back end is mobile, they move the puck and they’ve got a World Class goalie. That’s it. Whatever happens (Saturday night) or next week or the week past won’t change those facts. It’s a really good team.”

Part of his confidence stemmed from the fact that Winnipeg had played two strong games in a row, only to come up empty in the win department. A 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose and a 4-2 defeat to Minnesota had closed out their homestand earlier this week.

“They didn’t win but they were all over the other team,” said Maurice. “November isn’t the Stanley Cup and neither is February or March. Their last two games, they were dominant. The score doesn’t tell you how a team played.”

Winnipeg is not out of the woods yet. But Maurice got an up-close viewing of a team he still watches closely from a distance. Connor Hellebuyck was sensational, the power play came alive with two big goals, and all of Winnipeg’s tallies came from top-six forwards on this night.

Maurice said he’s thrilled to see Josh Morrissey emerge as a bonafide No. 1 on the blue-line, something he always envisioned was possible.

“Up the ice so much more. Some of it’s built on their attack. He’s always been a very mobile, very offensive player,” he said.

“When he first came in and he was a really young man, we played him and another young defenceman, Jake Trouba, in a shutdown role. They played against the other team’s best. And I think that was a good thing for him because you learn the defensive parts of the game. But he’s such a responsible guy, I think that was first and foremost in his mind. And now he’s developed into the player that can do both. He can defend well, but he can get up the ice. His hand skills, all the things that when he was originally drafted, the idea of what Josh Morrissey would be, he’s become.”

Just lie the Jets, Maurice also believes his team is a legitimate contender, even if they are still on the outside looking in when it comes to a crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Florida’s loss, combined with Pittsburgh’s win on Saturday, how has them three points out of the two wildcard spots currently held by the Penguins and New York Islanders. A handful of other teams, including Ottawa, Buffalo, Washington and Detroit, are also in the mix.

“Every day is exciting going to the rink, you’re fixing your problems, you’re wired. We’re playing playoff games now — and we’ve been like that, feeling like that for a month,” he said of the current mentality.

“So there’s that energy that comes behind the bench and the excitement of it — and that’s really what it’s all about. That’s the fire that you enjoy the most.”

Maurice sees a lot of similarities between the Jets and Panthers, which were certainly on display in Saturday’s wild affair.

“In a lot of ways,, both teams have some extreme speed and extreme skill on their top two lines. So they’re kind of built similarly,” he said. “Our goaltender’s been a key piece of what we’ve done in the last month, and Connor Hellebuyck is clearly capable of that as well.”

Maurice said he also feels right at home battling in a rock-solid division and conference. Just as it was often the case with Winnipeg in the Central and West, now it’s the case with Florida in the Metropolitan and East.

“I haven’t seen as many really, really good teams that won’t make the playoffs. Like dominant teams, at times,” he said of the current state of affairs.

“Pittsburgh, who we’re fighting (with), they got on an absolute roll. The Islanders have a unique style of game and they can win on that style of game alone. Buffalo is a dynamic team and they’ve gotten better over the course of the year. So we’re talking about really, really good teams and we haven’t even talked about the top four or five.

“The runs that those teams have been on — one is historic (Boston Bruins), Carolina is all you can handle in a game. It’s a very powerful side now and last year, it was completely split, probably by Christmas, by the top eight and the bottom eight. Now it’s changed, so now there’s lots of good teams.”

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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