December 17, 2018

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Winnipeg Jets (22 – 9 – 2)

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Jets keeping 'must-win' attitude

Losing Game 2 tonight would mean giving up home-ice advantage

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) keeps his eye on the puck as Nate Schmidt (88) and Luca Sbisa (47) defend against Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) and Mathieu Perreault (85) Saturday at Bell MTS Place. The Golden Knights will be looking to rebound from their Game 1 loss.</p>

CP

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) keeps his eye on the puck as Nate Schmidt (88) and Luca Sbisa (47) defend against Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) and Mathieu Perreault (85) Saturday at Bell MTS Place. The Golden Knights will be looking to rebound from their Game 1 loss.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/5/2018 (217 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was foreign territory to them just a month ago. But it’s quickly become a familiar feeling for the Winnipeg Jets, who once again find themselves in the enviable position of drawing first blood in a playoff series.

They rallied to beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in the first-round opener at Bell MTS Place. They escaped with an impressive 4-1 win in their second-round debut in Nashville against the Predators. And now they’re up 1-0 after an efficient 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night on home ice.

Not bad for a franchise that didn’t have a single playoff game win to its name prior to this spring.

Statistically, it’s a great position to be in. Teams that take Game 1 go on to win 69 per cent of all NHL playoff series. That jumps seven percentage points when it’s the home team that takes the opener.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/5/2018 (217 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was foreign territory to them just a month ago. But it’s quickly become a familiar feeling for the Winnipeg Jets, who once again find themselves in the enviable position of drawing first blood in a playoff series.

They rallied to beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in the first-round opener at Bell MTS Place. They escaped with an impressive 4-1 win in their second-round debut in Nashville against the Predators. And now they’re up 1-0 after an efficient 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night on home ice.

Not bad for a franchise that didn’t have a single playoff game win to its name prior to this spring.

Statistically, it’s a great position to be in. Teams that take Game 1 go on to win 69 per cent of all NHL playoff series. That jumps seven percentage points when it’s the home team that takes the opener.

However, as was the case in the first two rounds, there was no great celebration or sense of accomplishment as the Jets gathered Sunday for an optional skate in advance of Monday’s Game 2.

'Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted it to' — Marc-Andre Fleury

In fact, forward Nikolaj Ehlers went so far as to suggest there will be a "must-win" mentality — for the Jets.

"I believe that every single game in these playoffs is a must-win. Whether you’re up 1-0 or down 1-0, you know, we gotta win (Monday). They gotta win (Monday). We gotta win Game 3 and Game 4. They gotta do the same. We’re going out there to play and to win the game of course and get better. We played well (Saturday)but we know we’ve got more and we’ve got to go out and do that," said Ehlers.

Forward Andrew Copp said it’s important for Winnipeg to hold serve before heading to Sin City.

"We don’t really want to be heading to Vegas, 1-1. We had a good game (Saturday) night, but it doesn’t really mean anything if we come out and lay an egg (Monday). We’ve got to be sharp, because we know they’re going to make a push, especially early in Game 2," said Copp.

Vegas will be looking to rebound from Saturday when they fell behind 3-0 before the game was eight minutes old. They were coming off five days of rest, while Winnipeg had just returned home after downing the Nashville Predators less than 48 hours earlier.

"Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to. But I think we’ve been good in the last series to bounce back after those losses and after those games we had more trouble," Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said Sunday. "I think we know where we stand. We know what happened. I’m sure we’ll respond. I’m not too worried about it."

For all the good that came from the Game 1 victory, Vegas could still snatch home-ice advantage away with a victory Monday.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets Andrew Copp and Jacob Trouba talk to the media at the Bell MTS Iceplex, Sunday, May 13, 2018.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets Andrew Copp and Jacob Trouba talk to the media at the Bell MTS Iceplex, Sunday, May 13, 2018.

"It’s big. I don’t think it’s going to make or break the series, but it’s definitely nice to have that 2-0 lead going to Vegas. We know it could potentially be a long series against these guys. All we’re going to focus on again is our start, our first period and going from there," said veteran centre Bryan Little.

"We know they’re going to come out strong. We know they’re fast. We know they play a solid 200-foot game. So we know they’re going to come hungry and we have to be prepared for that," added centre Mark Scheifele, who leads all NHL players with 12 post-season goals.

Vegas winger William Karlsson, who scored one of his team’s two goals Saturday, said his normally speedy squad was caught flat-footed as the Jets seemingly rode the tidal wave of emotion from their Nashville victory right into the next series, fuelled by their raucous hometown crowd.

"We have to come out with a better start and not let them get the momentum. If we’re ready for when the puck drops we’ll be all right," said Karlsson.

There have been several keys to Winnipeg success so far, starting with the rock-solid goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck. Impressive special teams, such as the two power-play goals Saturday night, have also helped.

"Special teams is a big part of the playoffs. When you’re running good, it’s huge, but it’s definitely not something you want to rely on. You want to continue working on your 5-on-5 game and when you get the chances on the power play, you want to capitalize," said Scheifele.

Winnipeg has also used quick-strike offence, getting the first goal in nine of their 13 playoff games. They are 8-1 in that span. They’ve shown an ability to win both at home (5-2) and on the road (4-2).

Another major fact is that the Jets are now fully healthy, giving head coach Paul Maurice the luxury of rolling four balanced lines that can defend and produce offence. That’s why the fact a 29-goal scorer in the regular-season such as Ehlers isn’t concerned he’s still searching for his first playoff tally.

"Nik Ehlers hasn’t scored a goal. But that line’s been pretty darn good and we just won our first two rounds so I don’t care if Nikky scores. I want him to play the best game that he can, whether he puts the puck in or not, doesn’t matter. The line’s gotta outplay the other line, the team’s gotta outplay the other team. That’s it," Maurice said Sunday.

Ehlers said he isn’t sweating the drought.

"The way I played this year, the guys in here are scoring enough goals and winning games so… It’s gonna come. And when it does, it’s going to feel good. Until then, I’m doing the same things. I’m working hard, I’m playing for this team and trying to help this team win," he said.

Little said he expects to see a much different Vegas team for Game 2.

"They’re quick and they get on the puck. They’ve got guys that can score goals and have had really big seasons for them and big playoffs," he said. "Dangerous guys and a lot of speed, a bit more physical than I thought. That’s another part of the game we’re going to have to get used to."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

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.

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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).

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