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This article was published 16/5/2018 (649 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LAS VEGAS — The stakes are high tonight as the Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights face off in the desert.
The best-of-seven series is now a best-of-five after the teams split the first two games in Winnipeg. When a conference final is tied 1-1, teams that win Game 3 have gone on to the Stanley Cup final 81.4 per cent of the time, NHL statistics show.
Winnipeg took the opener Saturday by a 4-2 score, only to be grounded Monday night with a 3-1 loss. The Jets have never trailed in a playoff series this spring, nor have they lost two in a row. Both those streaks are on the line when the puck drops at T-Mobile Arena at 8 p.m. CST.
"A bounce back," forward Mathieu Perreault said following the morning skate in response to a question about what to expect. "We've done such a great job all year of bouncing back, and in these playoffs. We're going to bring our best effort."
No lineup changes are expected for Winnipeg. Vegas could see David Perron return to action after missing Game 2 due to sickness. He was third on the Golden Knights in scoring during the regular season.
"We want to set the pace right away, but we know they're going to have a good push in front of their fans. It's usually what happens for the home team. So if we can just weather the storm early on and push from there, we should be fine," said Perreault.
Winnipeg is 4-2 on the road in the playoffs.
"Our game doesn’t change much. We play a little simpler. Knowing that they’re good, we’ll come out that much harder," said rookie forward Kyle Connor.
Vegas has one of the best arena atmospheres in the league, but Winnipeg has already faced that challenge this spring in both Minnesota and Nashville.
"It makes it exciting, playing against a team that plays well in their arena," captain Blake Wheeler said Wednesday morning.
He joked that it's "pure luck" that has prevented Winnipeg from losing two consecutive games.
"I think we’ve played our best hockey all year bouncing back. We lost a couple of games in a row this year (during the regular season) but we always seem to bounce back. It seems like when our backs are against the wall, it brings out the best in our group. It’s no guarantee here tonight, but I think we’re going to play our game and it’ll give us an opportunity," said Wheeler.
"(A) good start is really important in here. The first goal isn’t going to necessarily make or break us tonight, but you’d like to get off to a good start. You’d like to establish our game, play on our terms. When we do that, typically the crowd becomes less of a factor and those things start to play into our hands a little more as the game goes on. Like I said, the game’s not over if they end up scoring first but we want to get off to a good start for sure."
Coach Paul Maurice said both teams are well past the feeling-out process of the series and know what each other can do.
"I really think, that 90 to 95 per cent of the adjustments you make are back to your true form. So what happens is, we win the first game so we’ve got all the answers, they win the second game so they’ve got all the answers," said Maurice. "That’s why we say those stupid things. We know our game, we play our game, we just gotta play our game. You guys hear that a thousand times. Because in some ways the systemization of these teams takes years. Where it becomes instinct for these players. And really what you’re doing is adjusting back to form."
At this time of the season, Maurice said quickly finding your "identity game" is the key to success.
"To get to the conference final, you would have had to spend the vast majority of time true to form. So your identity is fairly close to entrenched," 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.