WINNIPEG – Win a period. Win the second period.
If they go on to even grander things this special spring in Winnipeg, the Jets may well look back at the second period of Game 3 versus the defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators as the most definitive 20 minutes of their season if not their franchise.
Lose a double-overtime heart-breaker, then come home and get blown out by the Presidents’ Trophy champs? It could’ve gone south.
Tuesday’s middle frame is their identity. It’s why they thrill and believe and capture imagination.
Here is how the sniping, scrapping, dancing chaos unfolded — in their own words.
A normally deafening arena gone silent, the Jets retreat to the dressing room, having been outscored 3-0 by the best road team in hockey. Coach Paul Maurice walked in to address the group behind closed doors.
PAUL MAURICE: “We want to make sure we play all of these games and walk away proud of our game. It’s not a matter of effort with these guys. We want to be so good here, and we want to play for our fans. They want to keep it going, and I thought we were a little tight.”
PAUL STASTNY: “Some of the older guys like me were kinda easing into it after [Sunday’s] double-overtime game. That woke us up. Talking to Scott Oake, I said, ‘It doesn’t feel as bad as it looks just because you know what you can do in this building. You know you can feed off the crowd.’”
DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN: “We just came in here and talked to each other. Just said, ‘Let’s keep it simple and do what we’ve been good at all year.’ ”
BLAKE WHEELER: “We got our teeth kicked in a little bit in the first.… To be honest with you, I probably said the least. We had a lot of guys step up and say the right things.”
MAURICE: “There’s a certain way that we want to play. I don’t know if relaxed is the right word, but confident and driving is the way it needs to look, and we were tight in the first.”
WHEELER: “Not one guy yelled. Not one guy panicked. Take a deep breath here.”
JACOB TROUBA: “Nothing special. It was normal. Nothing different. If anything, play loose, have fun. Didn’t matter if we lost by seven or we came back to win that game. Whatever happened, we didn’t want to lose by playing tentative. That’s not our game.”
WHEELER: “It starts with our leadership from our coaches, coming in after the first period and let’s just keep this simple: Win a period. Win the second period.”
STASTNY: “You’re kinda just waiting for the buzzer to go off. I don’t want to say it was a turning point, but that was big for us, especially [because] we started slow. We didn’t play that well defensively, we weren’t moving that well offensively with the puck. We were maybe hoping the crowd would do extra work for us.”
WHEELER: “Momentum’s a crazy thing, especially this time of year. The crowd got into it. We got a great bounce on Stastny’s goal.”
Two minutes later, Austin Watson charges Wheeler high enough that the captain’s helmet pops off. Mark Scheifele immediately goes after the bruising Predator and takes a roughing penalty of his own. When Wheeler gets to his feet, he tries to pull Scheifele off Watson. The Predators would go more than 11 minutes without a shot on net.
WHEELER: “I was mad at [Sheifele] at first because I thought we were getting a power play. Then he told me we didn’t have a power play and I said, ‘OK, great job.’ You hate to see Scheif going to the box with anyone. I’d rather have him on the ice.”
MAURICE: “You do have to take care of your own, that’s for sure.”
WHEELER: “That’s what teammates do. You see someone take a liberty on one of your guys, and you step in for him. I appreciate that, and when you see one of your better players step in there and get his nose dirty, it sends a message to everyone.”
STASTNY: “I told [Scheifele] that the turning point was him taking that penalty, so instead of getting a power play we get the 4-on-4.”
MAURICE: “We can skate. You win a faceoff and you control the puck 4-on-4. If they have the puck, they’re just as dangerous 4-on-4 as we are. We’re a pretty good 4-on-4 team because we do have a back end that can really get involved — jump in the holes, buy the forwards time.”
The push to activate their defence down low results in a blistering slap shot goal by Byfuglien, the only Jet with a Cup ring.
MAURICE: “There was probably a little more room because they had a 3-0 lead, so we were able to get up and activate in. I really think that was an important change for us.”
WHEELER: “Buff gets a little bit of a long leash. He’s so dynamic that he keeps plays alive and can make some really special things happen with the puck. He’s the great equalizer. There’s nobody like him. Having him on our team gives us an advantage no matter who we play. That’s the type of player he is and from Game 1 of the playoffs, he has just dominated. You can’t stop it.”
P.K. SUBBAN: “In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what your system is, you’ve got to get pucks in and forecheck hard. They won the three-quarter ice game, they were just kind of turning pucks over at their blue line and turning up ice, and it’s hard to play against that when you don’t get pucks deep.”
STASTNY: “We’re both being aggressive, so all of the sudden, it forces them to turn it over, forces the D-man to wrap it around to [Ryan] Johansen. Trouba makes the pinch and then I just find Wheels. Wheels makes a good play and then Trouba gets open. The building was just going nuts; they were still announcing Buff’s goal. After that, Wheels just got engaged. I think we just fed off that.”
WHEELER: “Trouba has a great ability to jump in the play and lead a rush and make some big plays offensively. It’s just one of those things where you get a team running a little bit, going from 3-0 to 3-1 to 3-2 and they start to protect a little bit.”
STASTNY: “All of sudden, three goals in three minutes.… That was chaos.”
PEKKA RINNE: “Obviously, that 4-on-4 didn’t go as planned.”
WHEELER: “Our crowd noise is from the crowd. It’s not from speakers or music or live bands or whatever. That’s people making noise, and that goes right through your body.”
Nashville’s three-goal lead vanished, coach Peter Laviolette is asked by NBC Sports why he doesn’t call a timeout. There’s no point, he says. The barn is too loud. No one would hear him. Maurice flips left-wingers, moving Nikolaj Ehlers to Scheifele’s line and Kyle Connor with Stastny — and they own the puck.
RYAN ELLIS: “That’s exactly what’s going to happen when one team quits playing and the other one turns it up. We just stopped playing. It’s clear as day, I think you could see that. You can’t win hockey when you stop playing midway through the second.”
STASTNY: “The two biggest things we did was putting Connor on our line and Ehlers [on Scheifele’s], kind of switching them. I thought both those guys were unbelievable. None of those guys complained about line changes. We needed to shake something up.”
MAURICE: “Kyle Connor just needed to relax a little bit, so as soon as that happened all of a sudden Kyle was moving, he was on the puck and creating plays.… It frees his mind up a little bit, he relaxes a little bit, and now he’s a complete player.”
WHEELER: “Just a little shot of adrenalin to wake up young players and playing with different guys. It just creates a little different juice going for both those guys. I thought it was a great move by Paul, because once he made that move, both those guys were flying.”
BYFUGLIEN: “[Laine] can do it all, obviously. It’s the NHL. You can’t just be a shooter, you’ve got to be able to play.”
MAURICE: “[Byfuglien] can make an impact in a game in just about every single way possible. He can defend, he can play real physical, nobody wants to drop the gloves with him, and then there’s an offensive side. It’s a perfectly placed shot. Quick hands.”
Nice moves. pic.twitter.com/Ajs5YjQSvG
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 2, 2018
BYFUGLIEN: “I don’t know where some of this stuff comes from. It was spur of the moment. I’ve probably danced a couple times in my day, but not lately.”
TROUBA: “You guys only see him on the ice. I see him dance all the time.”
WHEELER: “It’s nice to see him get a little excited. It’s tough to get him to smile. Obviously I’m being a little sarcastic here, but get him feeling like himself and what are you going to do?”
The Jets outshoot the Predators 16-6 in the second period, delivering four unanswered goals. They carry their strong play in the third and go on to win 7-4.
RYAN JOHANSEN: “We stopped moving our legs. We did a lot of things poorly, and they got better. Momentum swings in playoffs, they can be deadly.”
BYFUGLIEN: “It’s not easy to come back from what we did in the first. I think everyone just knows you can’t quit. Never quit. Just keep working and you never know what’s going to happen.”
MAURICE: “It’s all about having faith in the game that you play. We like the way we played in the second. It’s true to our form, our style, the confidence.”
WHEELER: “There’s not a lead that feels insurmountable to us.”