Jets facing stiffest test yet after losing two straight for first time

Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler each had a goal and two assists, leading the Winnipeg Jets to a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

WINNIPEG -- To call it a crisis would simply be hyperbole.

To brush it off as merely insignificant doesn’t really do the subject justice either.

For 30 games, the Winnipeg Jets were able to wear a distinct badge of honour, one that represents a true sign of consistency.

To be one of just two teams to go that long without losing consecutive games (the Florida Panthers are now the last team standing in that category) is an impressive feat, there’s no doubt about that.

But after giving up four unanswered goals to the Edmonton Oilers in a 4-2 loss on Saturday night, the Jets' focus quickly turns to bouncing back well before a two-game skid has an opportunity to spread any further.

With 25 games left to go in the regular season -- including a tilt on Monday against the resurgent Vancouver Canucks -- the Jets essentially have no choice.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice was the picture of calm when asked about the current state of affairs.

“No message. We’ll move on to the next city. Consecutive-game losses isn’t a sign of necessarily anything terrible brewing,” said Maurice. “We’ve just completed nine playoff games (against) teams that are in the playoffs, seven of them on the road and I think we ended up about .500 in that mix, so we’re not bragging but we’re not dejected.”

Nobody is saying the Jets should be dejected.

On the contrary.

Their resilience has been celebrated and in many ways, has become a fixture when it comes to identity building.

For all of the messaging about not losing two in a row, this quickly becomes the stiffest test the Jets have faced this season.

For teams that expect to win, losing is supposed to stir up emotions.

If there was apathy, that would be the time for concern.

“I mean, we don’t like it. Locker room is not thrilled right now, so that’s a good sign,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who received a game misconduct at the end of regulation time for throwing the puck into the stands. “I’m not in reset mode yet. We have a very mature team, very mature coaching staff. We’ll handle this like adults and we’ll worry about that (Sunday), get ourselves right for a big series against Vancouver.

“Coming into the season, we knew it was going to be really tight. At no point did we expect to be in cruise control with a month left. Everyone came into this, probably in all divisions, expecting to have to earn a playoff spot up to the last few games of the season.”

There’s no use pining over lost points, but there are lessons to be learned when it comes to the art of counterpunching after your opponent hits back, since the Jets had numerous opportunities to restore a two-goal cushion after the Oilers trimmed the lead to 2-1.

“That’s definitely a part of winning games, especially in the playoffs and down the stretch here, is learning how to put teams away,” said Jets forward Andrew Copp. “We’ve done a good job of that all year, so it’s not a recurring problem.”

Maurice was quick to dismiss a suggestion it would be natural for a team like the Jets to suffer a bit of an emotional letdown after taking five of a possible six points from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the previous showdown.

After all, just look what happened to the Maple Leafs after its convincing three-game sweep over the Oilers by a composite score of 13-1.

Since that time, the Maple Leafs dropped six of seven games before regrouping on Saturday night.

“I don’t think so. I haven’t felt that in a game, I haven’t felt that in our play,” said Maurice. “We wouldn’t have made as much about the Toronto series as possibly the people covering that series.”

Okay, so members of the media may have made a bigger deal of those results than the Jets players or coaching staff.

That’s a fair point, yet what transpired still had the potential to serve as a springboard.

Since that decisive 5-2 win on Hockey Night in Canada on March 13, the Jets dropped three of four games -- and the one they won required overtime after they failed to hold onto a two-goal lead during the third period.

That’s nowhere near five-alarm fire territory, but it’s certainly a sign that certain things need to be tightened up.

At a time when the Oilers' dynamic duo of game-breakers struck for the goal that cued the comeback and the eventual game-winner, the Jets’ top line was held off the score sheet for a second straight game and was on the ice for both of the goals against that came off the sticks of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“It’s the first time we’ve lost two in a row, so I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of panic,” said Copp, whose power play goal got his team on the board. “I won’t say our backs are up against the wall, but it’s definitely time for us to go on a little bit of a run. We’ve just got to get back to our winning ways. There’s not a whole lot to change from our game, but enough to correct and go from there.

“These two games definitely didn’t go the way we wanted them to. You’ve got to be on the right side of the puck. I don’t want to say perfect, but those two guys, one little play where guys were on different pages can end up in the back of the net. Can’t give them any time and space. They’ll burn you if you do. All in all, I don’t think we played bad, obviously you’d like to put the puck in the net a little bit more. But I don’t believe there’s any panic. There’s a lot of belief in our room.”

That belief is about to be put to the test again as this seven-game road trip continues.

After playing nine consecutive games against teams above the playoff line, the Jets are embarking on a five-game stretch against a pair of teams that are in hot pursuit -- which means they’ll be hungry and playing with an identifiable level of desperation.

It won’t take long to figure out if the Jets are going to be able to match that.

“This year, you’re not going to go 56 games without losing twice in a row. We just move on to Vancouver, and don’t let it get to three,” said Copp. “Over the course of time, the core of guys that are here have been here for a while, it seems. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity over the years. For the last three years it seems like every year has something crazy for us.

“We’ll revert back to that. Go back to work. Next game has to be the hardest working game of the year, all that kind of cliché-type stuff. That’s real for us for the next game. We’ve just got to tap into that belief, know how good we can be and just go and outwork Vancouver and go from there.”

How the Jets respond to this situation could be the difference in thwarting those pursuers or sliding into a chase position.

They know the stakes, they know exactly where they stand in the North Division and they know exactly what it’s going to take to try and stop this slide before it has the potential to spiral.

“We’ve done a good job up until this point and we can’t let it slide,” said Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who finished with 33 saves but surrendered three (or more) goals for an eighth consecutive start. “Maybe we are just hitting a little bit of a lull. We’re going to rest up and we can’t let this affect us negatively.

“We’ve got to buckle down. Like I said before, we’ve got to use this as motivation. Not a knife in our back, you know? We’ve got to get back on the horse and continue to drive and believe in ourselves and know that we are a good team and there are good things ahead of us.”

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