LAS VEGAS – Pit bosses in this town grow suspicious of the kind of smoking run Mark Scheifele is riding. They’d probably be circling in the casino by now if the cut-no-corners centre pillaged them to this degree.
We’re only a little past the halfway point of these playoffs and already Scheifele has rewritten the NHL’s record book – scoring both goals in Winnipeg’s 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, giving him 11 in road rinks during these playoffs.
That’s one more than Sidney Crosby in 2009 and Joe Mullen in 1989. Two better than Pavel Datsyuk in 2008, Daniel Alfredsson in 2007 and a whole host of other Hall of Famers. It’s more than anybody ever in the 100-plus years of this league.
"You just watch him every single day: He’s getting better, he’s worrying about his game and he’s focusing the right way," said Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, a hint of wonder in his voice. "He manages his game and his body to a tee every single day."
This is the kind of hot streak you dream about in the driveway as a kid. Scheifele has 14 goals in 15 total games during the post-season and cruelly left T-Mobile Arena wondering about the 15th that never came thanks to a heroic sequence by Marc-Andre Fleury in the third.
With the Jets throwing everything they had at the Golden Knights while chasing the tying goal, Fleury stopped a rocket one-timer from Scheifele before performing a Superman dive to get in front of the rebound opportunity.
It was pure larceny. The only thing that stood between a hat trick for Scheifele and a 3-3 game with half a period to play in Game 3.
"We had some looks," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "He made some really, really good saves. We had lots of time on the clock … and there’s a bunch of places we’d like to see one go for us.
"The whole team gets paid, right? The goalie, too."
Scheifele, meanwhile, is only reinforcing his status as one of the biggest bargains in the NHL. There are 59 players who currently carry a higher cap hit than his $6.125-million and the list of players we’d rate ahead of him is considerably shorter than that.
In the post-season, he’s benefitted from some crisp passing from linemates Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. There’s also been a good bounce or two along the way. Scheifele’s 11 road goals have come on just 19 shots – giving him a 57.9 per cent conversion rate that is almost as impossible to duplicate at the blackjack table as it is on the ice.
Teammates are just shaking their heads at this point. Tyler Myers, who was stopped on his own third-period breakaway, can’t remember seeing someone produce like this at any previous point in his life.
"He’s been unbelievable," said Myers. "He’s so consistent and he’s playing great. We just want to come back as a group and rally behind him."
That is part of the growing story around the Jets. While Vegas has been propped up by its own dynamic top line, it also got a pair of goals from the No. 2 group while taking a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference final.
Maurice misheard a question about the lack of production from his secondary stars following Wednesday’s game and managed to show some humour despite the fresh sting of the loss.
"[Not enough goals] out of Mark? Yeah, we’re going to have a stern conversation tomorrow about his lack of production," said Maurice.
Only Crosby has scored more in one playoff year during the NHL’s salary cap era. He had 15 when the Pittsburgh Penguins lifted the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Unfortunately for Scheifele, his Game 3 also included the turnover that allowed Jonathan Marchessault to score 35 seconds in. He more than atoned for it, however.
"Yeah, it wasn’t what we wanted," he said. "A few miscues and they made us pay for it. That can’t happen."
But there was no wavering in his voice or any of his teammates. The Jets may be down in a series for the first time this spring but they clearly believe they can hang with Vegas in the biggest best-of-seven of their lives.
"It’s the playoffs. We’re in the conference finals," said Scheifele. "They’re a good team, too. They’re going to have their games, we’re going to have our games. We can’t sulk on this too long."
When you get on a hot streak, it’s best to maintain a winner’s attitude.