December 6, 2019

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Connor calmer, cooler heading into second NHL post-season

Kyle Connor scored 34 goals this season, including a hat trick on March 23 against the Nashville Predators. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)</p>

Kyle Connor scored 34 goals this season, including a hat trick on March 23 against the Nashville Predators. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Kyle Connor was coming off a 31-goal season with the Winnipeg Jets and had no way of knowing what he was in for next.

A year later, he's coming off a 34-goal campaign and his eyes are wide-open.

Connor and his Jets teammates begin what they hope is a long and prosperous Stanley Cup playoff run tonight against the Central Division-rival St. Louis Blues at Bell MTS Place. Game time is 7 p.m.

Winnipeg will turn to No.1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck to protect the crease from the red-hot Blues, who went 8-1-1 in their final 10 regular-season contests. St. Louis counters with NHL rookie-of-the-year candidate Jordan Binnington in net.

Connor followed up a tremendous rookie season with three goals and seven assists in 17 games during last year's playoffs, playing primarily with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler.

That's the way things will start this time around, and Connor says he's more comfortable than he was before the Jets began their run against the Minnesota Wild in last spring.

Kyle Connor will remain on the first line with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler when the Jets start their playoff run tonight. (David Zalubowski / The Associated Press files)</p>

Kyle Connor will remain on the first line with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler when the Jets start their playoff run tonight. (David Zalubowski / The Associated Press files)

"Just staying even-keel throughout the whole thing," he said. "Every game’s so emotional, so if you win one or lose one you can’t let it sway your emotions too much after the game. You win the first one and you think you’re winning the Cup right away, or vice versa. If you lose one you have to stick with it."

And the most important lesson he learned during last year's flight to the Western Conference final?

"It was tough, that first one. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions, but it’s the best hockey and a lot of fun. So, we have to make sure that we keep things in check and realize what’s our task, whether we’re down in the series or up," he said.

"Everybody’s pretty focused. We know the task at hand, so it’s a good kind of energy."

Winnipeg finished up just 4-5-1 in its last 10 games, securing second place in the division and home-ice advantage in the first round by defeating the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 Saturday in the 82nd and final game of the year.

The Jets had Sunday off and practised Monday and Tuesday. Head coach Paul Maurice said his group is keyed up for the grind.

"Everybody’s excited to get it going. Having three days (off) is good, being able to get out on the ice and being able to burn off some of that energy. Everybody is ready to roll," he said.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

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