July 21, 2018

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Jets land in Vegas determined to return to winning ways

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor and Bryan Little celebrate Connor's goal on Vegas Golden Knights during third period of Game 2 on Monday.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor and Bryan Little celebrate Connor's goal on Vegas Golden Knights during third period of Game 2 on Monday.

LAS VEGAS — Loss? What loss?

That's essentially been the mindset so far this spring of the Winnipeg Jets, who've managed to quickly move on from a disappointing outcome by immediately rebounding in impressive fashion.

This form of collective amnesia has served them well and is one of the main reasons they are in the Western Conference final, just three wins shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final. The Jets have yet to lose back-to-back, following their four previous defeats with a victory the next time out.

So it should come as no surprise that as the team landed on the Las Vegas strip late Tuesday afternoon, they'd already washed their hands of Monday night's 3-1 defeat on home ice that has turned this best-of-seven series into a best-of-five — with the Vegas Golden Knights now holding home-ice advantage.

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LAS VEGAS — Loss? What loss?

That's essentially been the mindset so far this spring of the Winnipeg Jets, who've managed to quickly move on from a disappointing outcome by immediately rebounding in impressive fashion.

This form of collective amnesia has served them well and is one of the main reasons they are in the Western Conference final, just three wins shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final. The Jets have yet to lose back-to-back, following their four previous defeats with a victory the next time out.

So it should come as no surprise that as the team landed on the Las Vegas strip late Tuesday afternoon, they'd already washed their hands of Monday night's 3-1 defeat on home ice that has turned this best-of-seven series into a best-of-five — with the Vegas Golden Knights now holding home-ice advantage.

"We’ve bounced back after every loss we’ve had so far in the playoffs. It’s no different for us (Wednesday). Just a huge game, so we’ll have to bring our best," said Jets forward Mathieu Perreault.

He described the expansion Golden Knights as "relentless."

"We knew they weren’t going to just fold and let us take two at home. They battled hard and played a hard game, so that’s what we expected from them. We’ve got ourselves a series," he said.

Game 3 is set for Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena. Not only will the Jets be looking to keep their longest losing streak of the spring set at one, they'll also be trying to avoid falling behind in a series for the first time.

"It's a long series and you can’t be taking losses to the next day. You can worry about them that night and then the next day get back to enjoying your time in the Western Conference final," said forward Andrew Copp.

He showed off just how light and loose this group is right now, playing a game of rock-paper-scissors with goalie Connor Hellebuyck to determine who got to face the media first Tuesday during a gathering at the Bellagio hotel located right in the heart of the Strip.

Copp picked scissors. Hellebuyck chose paper.

"If we’re not having fun, then what are we doing, you know?" Copp said.

This will be the second time Winnipeg has played in Sin City. The first visit, in early November, saw the team have three full days off before a dreadful 5-2 defeat to the Golden Knights. Winnipeg wasn't the only team to lay an egg in Vegas this season, leading many to speculate about why visiting teams often looked so unprepared to play.

Naturally, that led to some questions Tuesday about how the Jets planned to face this latest challenge. A Vegas television reporter mentioned to centre Mark Scheifele how some players have apparently been "partying it up" during the year and whether the Jets might have an "early bed-time."

"Obviously," said Scheifele. "It’s playoffs. You gotta put your nose to the grindstone. It’s all about rest and recovery, and that’s our focus each and every day here."

Perreault said there are plenty of distractions this time of year but none are related to which city they happen to be in.

"We’re here to win a hockey game," he said. "This is a nice city. You guys have walked around and seen what it’s like. At this time of the year, it’s all business. We’re here to win a Stanley Cup this year. Everybody is buying into that. It doesn’t matter what city we play in, we’re going to take care of ourselves."

If Winnipeg is to have success in these next two games in Vegas, they'll have to find a way to stop the top line of the Golden Knights. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith dominated at times in Monday's win and will look to keep things rolling on home ice.

"Anybody’s top line around the league, certainly anybody’s who’s left is going to be a real power. And they don’t need a lot of room, they won’t have to dominate to put two or three by you, they’ll just need their own chances," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

Winnipeg's top trio of Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor were tasked with that matchup early in this series, but Maurice later switched to using the line of Copp, Adam Lowry and Joel Armia. He won't have the benefit of getting last change on the road.

"They’re really good. They got a lot of skill, they’re hard on pucks. They do everything. They play a solid 200-foot game. You gotta be on your toes the entire time because they can make you pay at any moment. For our team we just have to win that battle," said Scheifele.

Copp said it takes a "total team effort" to stop them.

"They’ve got really good sticks, so when they’re coming on the backcheck they knock a lot of pucks down. They always seem to find that seam pass. That’s probably the biggest thing with them," said Copp. "That means we’ve got to be really direct and make them play in their own end. We know if we give them any time and space, all three of those guys can put the puck in the net."

Winnipeg has played well in enemy territory so far in the playoffs. They went 1-1 in the first round against the Minnesota Wild, then an impressive 3-1 in the second-round victory over the Nashville Predators. The only defeat came in double overtime.

"It just shows the resiliency of these good teams. You’re not just good at home, you’re good no matter where you go and it doesn’t matter where you go. You’re playing the same system and the same style and sometimes it just works out more on the road," said Hellebuyck. "It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be intense. This is all or nothing, all on the line and it’s what we grew up dreaming about."

There's that ever-present theme again, about simply enjoying the moment and not getting too high or too low after every game.

"Yeah, that’s the playoffs right. We didn’t think we were going to win four straight in the Western Conference final. That never happens. They’ve got a great team and they’ve had a great year, so no one is going to bow down or win easily. We’re in a battle and that’s what we want," said Copp.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

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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