As Jets hope for miraculous return, Scheifele’s injury presents major void

Paul Maurice doesn't budge a bit on his stance on the Matthew Tkachuk hit on Mark Scheifele that resulted in a pretty bad looking injury, and fields the question as to whether or not Tkachuk is a dirty player.

EDMONTON — This was a trip into the time machine that no fan of the Winnipeg Jets wanted to take.

While some of the circumstances are decidedly different, the parallels are impossible to ignore.

As Jets’ top centre Mark Scheifele was writhing pain on the ice and clutching his left leg, it was hard for many Manitobans to not think about Dale Hawerchuk being on the receiving end of a cross-check from Calgary Flames blue-liner Jamie Macoun back in 1985. For those who might not remember, the hit knocked Hawerchuck out of the series with a broken rib.

In a playoff filled with hopes of being a sleeper team, losing Scheifele just three shifts into the contest was demoralizing and despite scoring first, the Jets were unable to fully recover from his loss.

Regardless of your viewpoint, the intent of Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk has already garnered plenty of spirited debate as the two teams prepare to renew hostilities on Monday afternoon at Rogers Place.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice doubled down on his belief that it was a deliberate and dirty play and centre Adam Lowry echoed the sentiments of his head coach, suggesting it wasn’t as accidental as Tkachuk pointed out in his own defence.

Whether history is going to repeat itself – and Scheifele is going to suffer the same fate as Hawerchuk in that playoff series of year’s past – is still very much up in the air.

Though if you listened closely enough, there seemed to be hints of optimism emanating from both Maurice and centre Adam Lowry when asked about Scheifele’s status and mood.

Lowry revealed that Scheifele ate a post-game meal with his teammates and despite dealing with what appeared to be a painful and perhaps season-ending injury, he was the one trying to lift the spirits of his cohorts.

“We were all extremely worried for him. You never want to see a guy go down and to see how much pain he was in,” said Lowry. “Right there, your heart sinks and you’re thinking the worst. We were still waiting on results at the time so we’re not sure the extent.

“We’re hoping it’s more of a scare and not as severe as we first thought but he was just trying to keep our spirits up. He’s such a good team guy and he’s such a good person that even with all that going on he’s more about making sure that we’re ready for the next game.”

Maurice referenced a prior injury to Scheifele that the Jets’ centre was somehow able to play through that produced improbable results.

Whether that was simply subterfuge or foreshadowing is anyone’s guess right now.

“He’s frustrated, he’s angry,” said Maurice, who spoke to Scheifele on Sunday morning before the test results were in. “But the smile I got out of him … anyway he rolled his ankle in the last year and a half and I didn’t think he was going to play, and he had I believe 20 points in the next 11 games, so I told him to keep that in mind.”

Whether or not Scheifele can channel his inner Bobby Baun remains to be seen, but it would be shocking if he was able to suit up in Game 2 – especially with Game 3 of the series set to be played on Tuesday.

But the outside chance of Scheifele making an inspiring return seem a whole lot higher than they did a day earlier.

In the short term, it will be up to one of Blake Wheeler, Andrew Copp or Jack Roslovic to jump onto the top line and fill the void at centre.

“No one single player is going to be able to replace all the things he does,” said Lowry. “It definitely leaves a big hole in our lineup, but it gives an opportunity for guys to get even more minutes and kind of try to fill that void.”

Wheeler is familiar with the role after spending the bulk of the season as the second-line pivot after Bryan Little went down with what turned out to be a season-ending ear injury.

The Jets captain can handle the defensive responsibility and basically produced at a point-per-game rate at centre this season.

Copp is a viable candidate but Maurice likes the chemistry with Lowry so much that he may be unwilling to break up the duo.

Even if Roslovic is used on the wing with Wheeler, there would be an opportunity for him to spread his wings and show he’s a viable option to be in the top-six over the longer term.

Roslovic has shown chemistry with Kyle Connor dating back to their time together as linemates with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and that’s spilled over to the NHL-level – though they haven’t spent a whole lot of time on the same line there.

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Rookie Jansen Harkins is expected to jump into the lineup and make his Stanley Cup playoff debut and provides the versatility to be used at either centre or the wing.

The status of Jets winger Patrik Laine is also inconclusive, though calling him a game-time decision is the best way to assess things at this stage of the proceedings.

Laine suffered a suspected hand/wrist injury during the third period of Game 1 after a collision with Flames captain Mark Giordano.

After delivering a heavy check, Laine’s hand seemed to jam onto the dasher board and then Giordano provided a retaliatory cross-check. Which thing caused more damage was unclear and at this time of the season, information on injuries is equivalent to a state secret.

Whether the Jets are missing one star forward or two, the ability to overcome either absence is two-fold.

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First, the Jets are going to find a way to generate more offensively as a collective group.

That means finding a way to create more zone time and getting more shots to the net against Cam Talbot, who was steady but didn’t need to be spectacular in the opener.

Then, the Jets will need to do a much better job on special teams – where they finished minus-3 in goal differential in Game 1.

After struggling mightily with their entries with the man-advantage, one would expect Nikolaj Ehlers could be called upon to try and provide a boost for that top power-play unit.

Lastly, the Jets believe they have a not-so-secret weapon between the pipes in Vezina Trophy front-runner Connor Hellbuyck, who made 30 saves in Game 1.

But if the offence continues to be tough to come by, Hellebuyck is going to need to be near-perfect for the Jets to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole in this best-of-5 series.


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