LAS VEGAS – The Winnipeg Jets can be forgiven if they’ve forgotten what a losing streak feels like.
Heading into Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday, they’ve gone 26 games without dropping two in a row – dating all the way back to a three-game slide from March 10-13. It’s allowed them to play deep into the spring and provided an extra boost of confidence as they look to rebound from a 3-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2.
“It’s huge when you haven’t lost two games in a row. It’s a short series,” winger Patrik Laine said after the morning skate at T-Mobile Arena. “You need only four wins and if you’re losing many games in a row you’re pretty much almost done. So we’ve got to be able to win games and that’s what we’re here to do tonight.”
The play was pretty even during the two games in Winnipeg. In fact, Jets coach Paul Maurice had the scoring chances tied. (They are listed as being 44-39 in favour of Vegas at even strength, according to naturalstattrick.com).
The edge in games like these often comes down to execution and the Jets are justifiably proud of the level of consistency they’ve achieved. It’s a pillar of the best season in their history.
“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,” said Maurice. “Like, I’m arguing with myself when I’m answering these questions. Why wouldn’t you just play this way every night? Because they get paid, too. And sometimes it is energy level, sometimes it is that feeling good, so you’re … in on that forecheck a half-second earlier and all of a sudden your forecheck game, you must have made an adjustment. Just a little quicker.
“And if you put that in with a team that’s moving the puck a little slower, both teams are running the exact same game plan they’ve always run. It’s just one team has the advantage.”
The Golden Knights took their forecheck to another level in Game 2 from Game 1. They pressured Winnipeg into some turnovers and produced their offence that way.
“We liked our start last game, but after the first 10 minutes we kind of took our foot off the gas and just didn’t play our game,” said Laine.
That mistake is unlikely to be repeated.
Winnipeg fans arrive in Vegas
You can say this about Jets fans: They travel well. There were multiple sweater sightings during a quick walk along The Strip before Game 3.
Air Canada even got in on the act, staging a mini-whiteout on a Winnipeg-Vancouver flight Tuesday that was carrying at least 40 people who were catching a connection to Las Vegas.
“I think they’re having a great time,” Maurice said of the fans. “It’s its own little story, and its own party. So drive home from the game the other night, it’s almost all residential the way I take home. And there’s three or four cars in front of almost everybody’s house. And they got the TVs on and they’re still showing the highlights. Everybody is having their own little good time with this. And the ones that are fortunate enough to get on a plane to come down, they want to keep it going.
“It’s changed. It was ‘Good luck’ at the start, ‘Hey it’s great.’ Now it’s ‘I’m exhausted.’ Not me. It’s every second night, right? They’re in. They’re invested. They’re spending money and emotional capital and if they can get on a plane they’re doing it, too. It’s a great story.”
Jets rooting for long, gruelling East Final
There are only four teams left fighting for the Stanley Cup. There’s a game every night.
During the off-days in this series, some of the Winnipeg players have gathered together to watch the Tampa-Washington series. And they were happy to see the Lightning pull out a 4-2 victory on Tuesday to get back to 2-1 down in the Eastern Conference Final.
“It’s nice to see Tampa win a game last night, so they can at least get themselves a chance in that series,” said Jets forward Mathieu Perreault. “We’d rather see them go more than four games.”
Chiarot, teammates not getting caught up in Vegas flu
Ben Chiarot has probably had more fun in Vegas than he and his Winnipeg Jets teammates will have his time around. Or at least, a different kind of fun.
“It’s a new market, a new NHL city and there’s lots to do here,” the Jets defenceman said. “But you get that out of your system during the regular season. Playoffs are not a time to be enjoying Vegas.”
The Jets had three days off here before their regular-season game this season. They must have had some fun then, right?
“No,” said a straight-faced Chiarot. “We were working out and practising the whole time. We enjoyed the rink.”
“Even at night?” he was asked.
“Even at night.”