Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/4/2018 (557 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Despite winning nine of their last 10 games, the Winnipeg Jets should be looking at their final two contests as a great opportunity to tighten up their game a bit.
Last week, I wrote about head coach Paul Maurice giving players a rest and yet needing to keep the cohesion and confidence this team has displayed all year.
After a couple of somewhat sloppy wins against the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens while resting a number of players, it looks like we'll see them ice a full squad for the final games.
Their play has been a little loose over the last while, so it's time to get into playoff mode. Teams that have a lot of playoff experience know full well they can't just flip a switch that cranks everybody up a notch.
There are obviously a few things that differentiate the playoffs from the regular season.
Every puck battle is desperation time. There are some players known for taking the odd shift off during the season but are now in their opponents' faces every time they step on the ice. Players are isolated even more when it comes to making mistakes.
The easy games are gone. For at least four games in a row they’ll have to battle the same opponent, with no reprieve.
Another constant is the relevance of the coaching staff — they become even more vital as they look for any edge they can get.
The breaking down of individual and team tendencies, and how to exploit them, is now extremely important. They’ve also got analytics to help with their preparation.
Some coaches like to throw in a tweak or two to their systems, depending on their opponent.
They’re turning over everything to make sure they give their players any edge possible. There just isn’t time for that during the regular schedule.
While better technology has been a coach's best weapon over the years, I can’t help but look back to that last Avco Cup win in Winnipeg and point to the finals against the Edmonton Oilers.
A young Wayne Gretzky was becoming famous for setting up with the puck behind the net — known to many as his office. He created magic from that area, and we needed to contain him.
Our coach Tom McVie always had a plan for regular-season games, but that was nothing compared to the details when we hit the playoffs.
We made a number of adjustments, including not letting Gretzky get set up behind the net by cutting off their favourite lanes used to get him the puck.
There were a lot of reasons why we won, including us being a better-prepared team than the Oilers were.
In-game changes by a coach also become critical at this time of year. While the spotlight shines brightly on a player’s mistakes, the same holds true for coaches.
Making sure players are technically ready is important, but the leader also needs to make sure his men are at their best physically and mentally as well.
Of course the players play a huge part in this.
Many have game-day rituals that they stick to religiously — it’s all part of getting their mind and body ready for action.
People like to talk about superstitions, and for some it likely is; however, I think it’s just finding a comfort zone that allows you to perform at your best.
There were times during the long regular season that I would be trying all sorts of things to get my excitement level up for a game, but there was never a reason to worry about that in the playoffs.
Instead, it became an attempt to control and channel that great feeling into on-ice goodness.
That might be the Jets biggest challenge: using that energy to produce within their systems, and not turn the game into a track meet.
Nobody knows for sure how this young club will react on the big stage, but there should be confidence in that room right now.
The Jets are clearly one of the top five or six clubs in the league and have earned the respect they’re getting. Many people around the NHL have them tabbed as one of the favourites to win the Cup, despite their inexperience.
In reality, the Jets have been training all year for the playoffs. You can’t manufacture experience, but you can play your regular-season games in the structured environment that’s needed at this time of year.
For the most part, they’ve stuck to their systems, not getting thrown off course by some bad luck or a few poor plays. The player’s confidence in their ability to claw back into games has been impressive.
They’re not going to be able to just blow away the opposition in the first period at this point, so that resiliency will be needed if they’re going to enjoy a lengthy run.
Players can sometimes get away with lackadaisical work during the season, but that needs to disappear now. Lazy penalties or line changes, losing puck battles and straying from the systems can all cripple a team.
It’s easy to get carried away with all these warnings about how the playoffs are different, but I believe the key to a long playoff run is simple: the Jets need to perform like they did in their best games of the season, and forget about playoff experience.
Having a reasonably healthy lineup makes this a very realistic goal.
Chosen ninth overall by the NHL's St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA's Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.
Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.