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Opinion

Rest, chemistry need to be balanced as Jets regular season winds down

Winnipeg Jets' Brandon Tanev (13) celebrates his second goal of the game against the Boston Bruins during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p>

Winnipeg Jets' Brandon Tanev (13) celebrates his second goal of the game against the Boston Bruins during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/3/2018 (473 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets' thrilling shootout win over the Nashville Predators last weekend had NHL fans and media drooling over the thought of a playoff series between the clubs.

However, it might be tougher getting to that point than some think.

Almost everyone in hockey will have the same answer if they’re asked about how much playoff experience means in a series: if their team has a lot of it, it’s important; if it doesn’t, they might grudgingly admit it might matter a bit, if at all.

I’ve been in the latter camp for a while — there’s something to it, but I think it’s overrated. Most teams gain experience these days growing together, and once you’ve won a Stanley Cup, you’ve got lots of it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/3/2018 (473 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets' thrilling shootout win over the Nashville Predators last weekend had NHL fans and media drooling over the thought of a playoff series between the clubs.

However, it might be tougher getting to that point than some think.

Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press</p><p>Winnipeg Jets Nikolaj Ehlers (left) and Mark Scheifele rush to goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) after he made the game-winning save against the Nashville Predators on March 25.</p>

Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press

Winnipeg Jets Nikolaj Ehlers (left) and Mark Scheifele rush to goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) after he made the game-winning save against the Nashville Predators on March 25.

Almost everyone in hockey will have the same answer if they’re asked about how much playoff experience means in a series: if their team has a lot of it, it’s important; if it doesn’t, they might grudgingly admit it might matter a bit, if at all.

I’ve been in the latter camp for a while — there’s something to it, but I think it’s overrated. Most teams gain experience these days growing together, and once you’ve won a Stanley Cup, you’ve got lots of it.

There have been three multiple Cup winners since the 2008-09 season, and one single hit.

The Pittsburgh Penguins came off a loss in the final the year before to win it all in 2009 (later adding titles in 2016-17).

In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks won after a trip to the conference final the year before (later adding titles in 2013 and 2015).

John Woods / The Canadian Press</p><p>The Winnipeg Jets are playoff-bound once again.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press

The Winnipeg Jets are playoff-bound once again.

In 2011, the Boston Bruins won the Cup, after losing in the conference semi-finals.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings broke in for their first title after losing in the first round the previous two years (later capturing the 2014 crown, as well).

A Jets' Cup win would be defying that history — however, the Kings didn’t do much before becoming champions, if you’re looking for a silver lining.

Enough about winning it all, let’s just win a series.

It’s looking like the Jets' first-round challenger will be the Minnesota Wild (although the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues could still squeeze in).

There’ll be time to look deeper at this once the final seeds are set, but here’s a quick peek.

The Blues traded centre Paul Stastny to Winnipeg and looked cooked at the trade deadline, but they’ve managed to ring off a big win streak.

While the Jets have dominated them in play, goaltending would be the biggest concern, as Carter Hutton showed in a 2-0 shutout of Winnipeg earlier this season, and Jake Allen demonstrated last year by almost singlehandedly dumping the favoured Wild in the playoffs.

Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44), Ben Chiarot (7), Bryan Little (18) and Kyle Connor (81) celebrate after Little scored as Jets fans go crazy as the team played against the Nashville Predators’ during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg on March 25. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press)</p>

Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44), Ben Chiarot (7), Bryan Little (18) and Kyle Connor (81) celebrate after Little scored as Jets fans go crazy as the team played against the Nashville Predators’ during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg on March 25. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press)

The Avalanche are led by Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon but are top-heavy in talent and lack depth, although their speed can cause any team fits for a period of time.

Colorado’s save percentage is fourth in the league (Winnipeg is 12th), so theft of a series is possible.

Minnesota’s goalies sit eighth, and Devan Dubnyk has been known for standing on his head through long stretches.

The Wild forward group is built differently — more depth, without the top end the Avalanche possess.

Still, Eric Staal has 40 goals (he’s found the fountain of youth) and they have a couple of strong lines that complement each other well.

Minnesota's ability to clog up the middle of the ice when defending would provide Winnipeg with a challenge.

The Jets need to get themselves ready for the initial playoff round. It’s been a long, injury-riddled season.

Some have suggested head coach Paul Maurice should first wrap his troops in bubble wrap, and then rest a bunch of players toward the end of the regular season.

Such protection isn’t a bad idea, but the Jets need to be in synch when the playoffs start. It will help combat any disadvantage playoff experience might hold against them.

The Jets are walking a fine line with six games left in the season (including Thursday's clash with Chicago). Hockey players are going to go all out unless you sit them down. You can’t have a system where things such as getting into shot lanes are imperative, and then expect players to bail out in case they get hurt.

So there may be more scares — like the recent one involving Patrik Laine — but their approach will need to stay the same. It needs to, as there’s no magic switch players can turn on that’ll instantly have them playing their best hockey of the year.

While some Jets players definitely need a rest, the continuity of strong play and chemistry must continue. No one knows better than the trainers and Maurice as to who needs a break — they’ll just need to keep on-ice cohesion in mind when doing so.

Giving goalie Connor Hellebuyck a couple of games off is the easy one. If it’s decided they need it, trying to get agreement from any of the seven players who’ve played every game so far in 2017-18 will be tougher.

That’s where common sense has to rule.

In that last Avco Cup run in Winnipeg, general manager John Ferguson told me I’d be sitting out a game to give a nagging injury a break before the playoffs started.

My thoughts at the time aren’t meant for a family newspaper, but it happened. So did a title win. Maybe players don’t always know what’s best for them.

The Jets have an opportunity to maximize rest while optimizing team play, a luxury they haven’t had in the past.

Treading these uncharted waters correctly will significantly help them get to that second-round series everybody’s been talking about.

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.

Twitter: @NHL_Campbell

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell
Columnist

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.

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