A few details continue to smoulder in Andrew Copp's mind about the Winnipeg Jets' last encounter with the Vegas Golden Knights.

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A few details continue to smoulder in Andrew Copp's mind about the Winnipeg Jets' last encounter with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Most stinging is how a group of hockey players nobody else wanted managed to eliminate the talent-laden Jets from the 2017-18 Stanley Cup playoffs with a 2-1 triumph in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

But trapped there, too, in Copp's memory is the indignation of knowing his services weren't called upon in that decisive game last May at Bell MTS Place.

The Jets and the visiting Golden Knights, in just their second year of existence, renew acquaintances Tuesday with a 7 p.m. start time at the downtown arena (TSN 3, TSN 1290). The squads each have 60 points and are flying high in the conference, although Central Division-leading Winnipeg (29-14-2) has played three fewer games than Vegas (28-16-4), now third in the Pacific.

Copp, 24, who centres the Jets' fourth line, said it won't be difficult to get motivated.

"It's the first time we've played Vegas since the end of last year, so there's going to be a little bit of the revenge factor," said Copp, who has three goals and nine points in 32 games this year; a concussion kept him out of the lineup for 13.

"I think we owe them a little bit. You put in so much work all season as a group and as a team, and you're right to the point where you feel like you can win the Cup in the next few weeks, and they're the team to knock you out. So, I think you have to take that a little bit personally and right a few wrongs. We've turned the page to a degree, but it's definitely still personal."

The Jets are coming off Sunday's 4-3 overtime victory over the Anaheim Ducks, their second-straight win at home, and have racked up five wins in their last seven.

They head south later this week for clashes with the Nashville Predators Thursday and the Dallas Stars Saturday.

After a slow start to the season, Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant has his squad rolling. The Golden Knights earned victory No. 8 in their last nine Saturday, slipping past the Chicago Blackhawks 4–3 in overtime.

"(Vegas) is another team that's had a really good stretch here, so we're going to have to be ready to go," Copp said. "The two games after that are divisional games against rivals, so we shouldn't have any trouble getting up for these next three.

Copp was one of just six Winnipeg skaters to suit up for all 82 regular-season games last year, and he battled in all five games in a series win over the Minnesota Wild, seven more in the triumph over Nashville and the first four of the conference final.

But he was one of three players scratched by head coach Paul Maurice for the fifth game against Vegas (defencemen Ben Chiarot and now-departed Toby Enstrom were the others). That's been impossible to obliterate from the memory bank, he said.

"I think it's kind of a blur now how they ended our season. But I still think about how I was scratched that last game. That's probably what carries the most weight with me, for sure," he said. "In the summer — a lot — and then you get back here and in the beginning a lot of things remind you of it.

"It's eight months now and you turn the page at some point, but it's definitely something I'll never forget. And if I'm in need of motivation, you can always revert back to that."

Chiarot, who scored his fourth goal of the year Sunday, said he was impressed with the Golden Knights then and he's even more of a believer now.

"I found they played pretty consistently for 60 minutes. They're a fast team and they played that way for 60 minutes, they wouldn't come off the gas ever, they looked the same shift after shift. Ultimately, those are the teams that get to the Stanley Cup final," he said. "We thought we were pretty similar where we could roll shift after shift and look the same, but they were great.

"Being an expansion team, you get a lot of guys that were cast off from other teams and had to battle over their careers for ice time and were never really given anything. You get a collection of guys like that on the same team and you're going to get a hard-working team that plays the right way, no matter what."

Gone from last year's rendition that drop-kicked the Jets before falling to the Washington Capitals in the Cup final are forwards James Neal and David Perron and blue-liners Luca Sbisa and Jason Garrison. But the addition of forwards Max Pacioretty, ex-Jet Paul Stastny and defenceman Nick Holden constitutes a significant upgrade to their talent.

"That was the knock on them, that they didn't have that high-end skill, but then you see guys emerging like (William) Karlsson and (Jonathan) Marchessault and then they add Pacioretty and (Stastny) and you get some more high-end guys in there, it's a good team that with those addition gets even better," Chiarot said.

The Golden Knights went 8-11-1 through the first 20 games, but are 20-5-3 since Nov. 18.

"Now they look as powerful, if not more, than they did at any point last year. They're a year further into their program," said Maurice. "They still have that real veteran team. They don't have a lot of kids in that lineup. And they're deep. They'll go four lines all night long."

Expect to see the Golden Knights go with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who leads the league with 26 wins, while Winnipeg will likely counter with Connor Hellebuyck.

Fleury was a central figure in the team's remarkable run a year ago, including some sensational play against the Jets, in particular. He let in four goals in a 4-2 loss in Game 1 but then surrendered just six over the next four contests, posting a .955 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average to ground the Jets.

"I think Fleury was playing unbelievable. That was one thing. He was making those types of saves you don't see too often. He was making those saves every shift and keeping them in the series," recalled Patrik Laine, who scored his 25th goal of the year against the Ducks. "I think we were just not able to skate with them. And I think we were just running out of gas.

"Obviously, when you play against maybe the best team in the league (the Predators) for seven games, it's not easy and we're going to be exhausted after that kind of series. I think that was a little bit too much for us."

What's on the line against Vegas?

 

"Two points, I guess. Just a normal game. We haven't seen them this year, so it'll be a good matchup," added Laine. "Obviously, they kicked our ass in the playoffs so we want to win (Tuesday) and get the two points."

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).

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