September 24, 2018

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No signs of stage fright for Jets' young stars

Paul Stastny, Patrik Laine, Dustin Byfuglien, Nikolaj Ehlers and Joe Morrow celebrate Stastny's goal against Minnesota Wild's goaltender Devan Dubnyk during the third period Friday night. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>

Paul Stastny, Patrik Laine, Dustin Byfuglien, Nikolaj Ehlers and Joe Morrow celebrate Stastny's goal against Minnesota Wild's goaltender Devan Dubnyk during the third period Friday night. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Forget the kids just being alright. For the Winnipeg Jets, they've been a huge part of jumping out to a 2-0 series lead in their opening-round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild.

Any questions about whether Winnipeg's youngest stars might buckle under the pressure of their first playoff appearances have quickly been answered.

Connor Hellebuyck has won both starts, giving up just three goals in the process. Patrik Laine has scored in both games, chipped in an assist and stepped up his physical play. Nikolaj Ehlers and Jack Roslovic each have a pair of helpers. Kyle Connor has looked dangerous on Winnipeg's top line. And Josh Morrissey has been highly effective in helping shut down Minnesota's top offensive threats.

A small sample size, for sure. But certainly, there are no signs of stage fright in the early going.

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Forget the kids just being alright. For the Winnipeg Jets, they've been a huge part of jumping out to a 2-0 series lead in their opening-round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild.

Any questions about whether Winnipeg's youngest stars might buckle under the pressure of their first playoff appearances have quickly been answered.

Connor Hellebuyck has won both starts, giving up just three goals in the process. Patrik Laine has scored in both games, chipped in an assist and stepped up his physical play. Nikolaj Ehlers and Jack Roslovic each have a pair of helpers. Kyle Connor has looked dangerous on Winnipeg's top line. And Josh Morrissey has been highly effective in helping shut down Minnesota's top offensive threats.

A small sample size, for sure. But certainly, there are no signs of stage fright in the early going.

"Continuation of the regular season. They were really important players for us all year. They’ve handled the emotion of it very well. I haven’t seen a difference between the young players and the older players in our game," Jets coach Paul Maurice said Saturday just before his team departed for the Twin Cities in advance of Sunday's Game 3. (6 p.m., Sportsnet, TSN 1290).

"Probably both teams were a little tight in Game 1, early, and you couldn’t tell by the numbers or names on the back, how many games they had in. I think they handled that quite well," he said. "What these guys have done is they hang on to the game that they’ve played. They’re coming to the rink and sometimes the young guys don’t get caught up in the moment. They all feel they’ve got 20 more years of it, so why bother? They’ve looked comfortable."

Morrissey said he knows it's only going to get more difficult, especially facing an ornery Wild team looking to get back in the series while enjoying the comforts of home at the Xcel Energy Centre.

"I think in the playoffs momentum really doesn’t carry over from game to game. So every night it’s a new battle. We’ve played really well in these first two games, I think sort of played exactly how we wanted to and now going into Minny, they have loud fans and it’s a tough rink to play in. We’ve got to be ready to go. It’s a whole new game," he said Saturday.

The 23-year-old, playing his second season with the Jets, admitted he battled some nerves on his first few shifts.

"Once you get out there and get playing the game and get into the feel of the game and make a pass or a hit or something like that, you just feel like you’re playing. You know the time of year you’re playing but you’re still just playing that same game," said Morrissey.

Centre Adam Lowry isn't exactly a veteran at the age of 25. But he's making his second playoff appearance after being on the 2014-15 team that was swept in four straight games by the Anaheim Ducks. Lowry said it's impressive how quickly this crop of playoff rookies have adjusted.

"I think they’re handling it extremely well. First game, first period we seemed a little sluggish. It took a little bit for us to kinda get settled into our game. But after that, I think we’ve really played solid. All those guys have been key contributors," he said.

Roslovic is a perfect example. Relegated to the sidelines as a healthy scratch for Game 1, the rookie jumped right into the mix for his Game 2 debut after Mathieu Perreault was unable to play due to injury. He set up a pair of goals while looking very effective on a line with Bryan Little and Andrew Copp.

"He didn’t look out of place at all. If anything, he was controlling the play and making plays out there. For a guy who’s jumping into his first playoff game and the atmosphere, it’s pretty nice to see. For us guys who’ve been around, we’ll just keep trying to help them out as much we can," said defenceman Tyler Myers.

"They’re coming in with confidence and that’s all you can ask from the young guys. They’ve been unreal for us throughout the first two games here."

Maurice didn't have an update Saturday on Perreault's potential availability for Game 3, but it's a safe bet to assume he remains a "game-time decision" as he was for Game 2. Translation: Maurice isn't tipping his hand about injuries during the playoffs, not wanting to give the enemy any information.

"They’re the next best home team in the NHL so they’re going to get into their comfort zone real good. It’s a loud building," Maurice said of what he expects from the Wild.

"What we need to do is handle it. Our game won’t change, the things that we want to accomplish on the ice, but it’s going to feel different on the bench. In that building, the puck crosses the blue-line and the crowd is expecting the chance … It just needs to get near the net and they get pretty excited. It’s all part of the learning process for the new guys and the veteran guys who’ve had that experience before can help out."

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

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History

Updated on Saturday, April 14, 2018 at 3:11 PM CDT: Headline fixed.

7:45 PM: adds Roslovic

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