July 22, 2019

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Crisis? What crisis?

Down 2-0, Jets aren't pushing panic button yet, but changes coming

Jets fans can be excused for being on edge, but head coach Paul Maurice says his squad has to find its confidence heading into Sunday's Game 3 in St. Louis. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jets fans can be excused for being on edge, but head coach Paul Maurice says his squad has to find its confidence heading into Sunday's Game 3 in St. Louis. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

ST. LOUIS — Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper has called his team’s predicament a “five-alarm fire” after one of the NHL’s best regular-season teams in history dropped the first two games of its playoff series on home ice to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So what exactly does that make the situation facing the Winnipeg Jets, who are in the same boat after losing a pair to the St. Louis Blues right out of the gate?

“Three?” Jets coach Paul Maurice said Saturday of the degree of alarm. “One-goal games. We’re talking about two games that are tied in the third period. And it ends up being one. I had them slightly better in chances even-strength in the first, and us slightly better in chances even-strength in the second. It is so tight. What’s unusual is they haven’t been tight straight through, both games. And that’s true for both teams. There’s been sections of the game that each team has controlled, and we’re both looking to get that section taken care of.”

The Jets are running out of time to get that done if they want to continue playing hockey beyond this week. Game 3 is set for this evening (6:30 p.m.) at what’s expected to be a rowdy Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

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ST. LOUIS — Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper has called his team’s predicament a "five-alarm fire" after one of the NHL’s best regular-season teams in history dropped the first two games of its playoff series on home ice to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So what exactly does that make the situation facing the Winnipeg Jets, who are in the same boat after losing a pair to the St. Louis Blues right out of the gate?

"Three?" Jets coach Paul Maurice said Saturday of the degree of alarm. "One-goal games. We’re talking about two games that are tied in the third period. And it ends up being one. I had them slightly better in chances even-strength in the first, and us slightly better in chances even-strength in the second. It is so tight. What’s unusual is they haven’t been tight straight through, both games. And that’s true for both teams. There’s been sections of the game that each team has controlled, and we’re both looking to get that section taken care of."

The Jets are running out of time to get that done if they want to continue playing hockey beyond this week. Game 3 is set for this evening (6:30 p.m.) at what’s expected to be a rowdy Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

To a player, they know they’re currently in a hole and the power of positive thinking alone won’t be enough to raise them from the depths. The Jets have played well, in chunks, but haven’t laid down the kind of thorough, 60-minute effort that, while cliché, tends to result in victories this time of year.

"I think they’ve just been tight games. I think both games, both teams had a chance to win and, unfortunately for us, they got them both. Yeah, we got some work to do," veteran forward Bryan Little said Saturday morning.

Jets d-man Ben Chiarot finds himself in the middle of a Blues goal celebration in Game 2. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jets d-man Ben Chiarot finds himself in the middle of a Blues goal celebration in Game 2. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Jets held an optional skate and made a couple of players available to the media prior to jumping on the charter for Missouri.

"We’re staying positive and staying motivated and getting ready to go into St. Louis for some big games," Little said. "We’d rather be up 2-0. It’s definitely going to be a battle. But like I said, we’re staying positive in there. We believe we can come out on top of this thing."

Friday’s 4-3 defeat was led by Ryan O’Reilly’s early third-period goal that snapped a 3-3 tie. He cruised in, used blue-liner Ben Chiarot as a screen and fired a shot past Connor Hellebuyck with just 3:46 gone in the final frame. The Jets never did recover and get the equalizer.

The wrist shot from well out put an exclamation point on Hellebuyck’s struggles for much of the night. Three of the shots that beat him came from well out, including a squibbler through his legs off the stick of Oskar Sundqvist in the second period.

In a fight with, arguably, the NHL’s hottest squad, Winnipeg no longer just needs its highly paid starter to keep pace with the stellar play of Blues rookie Jordan Binnington, they require Hellebuyck to be superior.

Hellebuyck has surrendered six goals on 58 shots for a .897 save percentage, while his counterpart has a flashy .926 SV%.

According to Maurice, his team had 11 "high-danger" chances against the Blues on Friday, scoring just once. He’d actually like to see the Jets pulling the trigger more often.

Connor Hellebuyck will get the start Sunday despite a rough outting on Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Connor Hellebuyck will get the start Sunday despite a rough outting on Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

"Not for the point of getting more rubber at him to loosen him up, but more for what happens after we don’t shoot those. What you’re looking for is some chaos off that. Not, ‘Hey, a knuckler might go in on him.’ This is a small number... we had two or three that we tried to pass something on the inside that didn’t make a whole lot of sense." Maurice said.

"It’s tight for good reasons. They’re battling hard, we’re battling hard. There’s nothing easy coming for either team. How do you get yourself over that edge? It’s one or two more plays that you think you can make."

The numbers say teams that win the first two games of a playoff series on the road are 72-20, which is a 78 per cent success rate.

"Somebody who’s got a math degree is going to tell me I’m full of (expletive) — and it wouldn’t be the first person — there’s usually a reason that a team goes down 0-2. It’s that one team’s a hell of a lot better than the other, and that’s why the series gets finished," Maurice said.

"I look at these as two 99-point teams that are both real good and both real tight. It’s almost the flip of a coin. And the third flip, there’s no bearing on the first two. So you go out there and battle. And, most important, you keep that belief and that energy that you are right there, that you’re in these games. And then you give yourself a chance."

Hellebuyck will get the start in net Sunday despite his rough outing, and Mathieu Perreault could return to the lineup after missing Game 2 with an upper-body injury. Maurice hinted at other possible changes, but wouldn’t give specifics.

"Looking for something different. Just a little edge. You don’t want to change your grip every time you get up to the tee box, but if you keep hooking the ball you better make an adjustment, right?," he said.

Mathieu Perreault should be back in the lineup Sunday after missing Friday's game with an upper-body injury. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Mathieu Perreault should be back in the lineup Sunday after missing Friday's game with an upper-body injury. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg took the season series 3-1, but that was a very different Blues team they faced, with all games coming prior to Christmas when they were languishing near the bottom of the standings.

"You don’t want to be down 2-0, but we’ve got a lot of faith in our locker-room. Just take it one game at a time. The Cup champs last year (Washington Capitals) were in the same spot we’re in right now. I don’t think anyone’s unpacking their locker or anything like that. There’s a lot of belief. Two really tight games that could have gone either way. We’re not in the spot we want to be, but we’re not down and out yet," forward Andrew Copp said Saturday.

"Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. The team that handles the adversity, sticks together and pushes through is going to be the winner. Obviously, it feels like (Sunday) is a must-win game, but I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel here.

"As much as you guys write, we don’t really listen to a whole lot of it. Every expectation that’s in our room comes from the room. We obviously have higher expectations, each of us individually and as a team, than anybody else. We know what we need to do. We’re going to get a plan together today and apply it to (Sunday's) game."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Read full biography

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

Read full biography

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