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This article was published 17/5/2018 (924 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LAS VEGAS — They may feel a bit down on their luck these days, which would give them plenty of company in this part of the world. But the Winnipeg Jets insist there's no panic button being pushed after two straight losses have them chasing a playoff series for the first time all spring.
Winnipeg faces a crucial test Friday in Sin City as they look to regain home-ice advantage and even up the best-of-seven series before it shifts back to Bell MTS Place. Another defeat would push them to the brink of elimination and require three straight victories in order to reach the Stanley Cup final.
"We’re all aware that we’re down 2-1, but it’s still fairly early in the series. Both teams are going to come out guns a blazing and try to give the other team nothing," Jets head coach Paul Maurice predicted Thursday while meeting with the media at T-Mobile Arena.
Players spent the off day doing off-ice workouts and video sessions with coaches in hopes of solving a Golden Knights team that continues to exceed even the loftiest expectations in their inaugural season.
One obvious area of concern is secondary scoring. No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele is a bit of one-man show right now when it comes to production, and the sooner his teammates start to chip in the better.
"It’s really dangerous to be up here sitting and talking about offence because as soon as you start doing that, you’ve got your mind not right," Maurice cautioned.
Scheifele already has 14 goals this spring and set an NHL record for road tallies by notching his 10th and 11th of the post-season in Wednesday night's 4-2 defeat. He's only five off the all-time playoff record of 19 post-season goals, held by Reggie Leach and Jari Kurri.
As a team, the Jets have lit the lamp 50 times so far, meaning Scheifele is responsible for 28 per cent of their scoring.
Nikolaj Ehlers, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Jack Roslovic have combined for three playoff goals. Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor have three each. Patrik Laine has four.
"It'd be nice to score a goal," Lowry said Thursday when asked what he can try to improve upon. He's still searching for his first of these playoffs, with just two assists in 14 games.
"We've had some good chances last few games. Now it's about chipping in. We can't just rely on Mark's line to be carrying the bulk of the offensive load. You need depth scoring in the playoffs. Hopefully we're going to be able to chip some in in the next few games," said Lowry.
Laine has had numerous chances to add to his total, including ripping yet another shot off the post in Wednesday's game.
"Obviously when the team's down and you're down in the game and you have a power play and you're hitting post after post, it's frustrating. But you've just got to work a little harder to get that one goal. When I get it and when Adam gets his, the goals are going to keep coming, for sure. Just try to work hard to get that one," said Laine.
Scheifele's run is certainly one of the major talking points in the NHL these days, and that buzz extends to his own locker room.
"He’s been incredible. I think he’s been one of our most consistent performers throughout the year. I think playing in Winnipeg, I don’t think he gets the recognition nationally or across the league that we think he deserves. We have some superstars on this team that might not get the press that they’d get if they were playing in different markets," said Lowry.
"He quietly goes about his business. He seems to always be in the right spot. He’s a guy that’s always working on his game. To see him being rewarded like he is right now, it just shows the hard work he’s putting in is really paying off."
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made Scheifele his first-ever draft pick in 2011, and some observers thought it might be a reach to take him with the seventh-overall selection. Now it looks like one of the shrewdest moves the current nominee for NHL GM of the Year has made in his tenure.
"Mark Scheifele is one of the most driven players that I’ve ever been around, so it’s not a surprise that he’s taking his game to another level," said Cheveldayoff. "But I think there’s even more. There’s more out of Mark Scheifele that we haven’t even seen yet. That’s what makes him exciting and that’s what makes us so proud to have him as a part of our organization."
Cheveldayoff was quick to credit Scheifele with constantly pushing himself to get better.
"All this doesn’t happen if a player like Mark Scheifele doesn’t take it upon himself to be the best that he’s gonna be. That truly is development. We put the pieces, we put the processes, we put the opportunities in front of him but in this game it’s about the players and about how they take that opportunity," said Cheveldayoff.
The team is no doubt hoping Scheifele can help push his teammates to the promised land by rediscovering some of their offence, while not sacrificing the defensive parts of the game that are so important at this time of year.
"Everyone has their big, big nights when you score a lot of goals, but so much of the hockey we played this year was pretty tight. You had to be focused and you had to be right to win those games," said Maurice.
Winnipeg certainly looked dangerous in the last two periods of Wednesday's game, firing 32 shots at Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury after just three in the opening frame. They scored twice and came close on numerous other opportunities.
"I don’t think our game changed a whole lot. It was just a matter of getting more pucks to the net I guess? We kept it pretty basic and kept our game simple," defenceman Dustin Byfuglien said of how his team came on strong.
Centre Paul Stastny is one of the few players on the team with extensive playoff experience, including being down in a series. He believes it's only a matter of time before things begin to turn for the better.
"I think if we have the same chances that we did (Wednesday), some of those are going to go in. If not, he (Fleury) will be standing on his head and you got to tip your hat. You know we had some pretty good looks that didn’t go in," said Stastny. "Maybe earlier in the series they were going in and now they’re not going in. If we keep creating those chances, keep creating the havoc, then it’s those second and third chances that are going to go in.’’
As for now chasing the series, Stastny said he doesn't expect his team to abandon what got them here in the first place.
"(Wednesday) I think the guys were a little discouraged; (Thursday) is a new day and guys are feeling a little better. You have a good meeting and they’ve done a good job of sending the right message to prepare us for (Friday). We worry about that game and not worry about what happened in the first three games," he said.
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.