WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets got comfortable being in one-shot hockey games in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The truth of the matter is that they really had no choice, with all four games against the Edmonton Oilers going right down to the wire and three requiring overtime, including a clincher that required nearly six periods before a winner could be determined.
Now, the biggest challenge the Jets face in trailing the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in the best-of-seven series for the North Division crown is that they must get a little more comfortable actually being uncomfortable.
As the Jets get set for Game 3 on Sunday at the Bell Centre, they’ve got a clear picture of what their opponent has brought to the table and exactly what they must try and do to counteract what has given the Canadiens a noticeable leg up so far.
“We haven’t generated the offence that we’d like to in this series,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “So a 1-0 game is a place that we’ve got to get real comfortable with.”
The Jets have only managed to score three goals through two games -- with only one of those coming at even strength on a shot from the high slot by defenceman Derek Forbort.
Finding a way to generate more quality opportunities at even strength -- and the power play -- is a top priority for the Jets.
For the past several weeks, we’ve been hearing Maurice talk about how scoring chances off the rush would be drying up when the stakes get higher.
That assertion has been bang on, especially against a Canadiens team that has played a stifling brand of hockey and has not trailed in a game for a single second while putting together a five-game winning streak after falling behind 3-1 in the opening-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Offence was always going to be tougher to come by with Paul Stastny missing those first two games and top-line centre Mark Scheifele earning a four-game suspension for charging for his hit on Jake Evans late in the opener.
With Scheifele and Dylan DeMelo (soft tissue injury) unavailable, it was always going to take a cumulative effort -- and that remains the case.
This isn’t about a singular player needing to step up in Scheifele’s absence, but the Jets' top guns need to get firing on all cylinders -- even if unsung heroes are always welcome.
Another player who could make an impact with the enhanced responsibility being provided is Pierre-Luc Dubois, whose tumultuous season has been well documented since he arrived in a blockbuster trade for Patrik Laine.
This isn’t about exploring the potential for buyer’s remorse or revisionist history.
The Jets still strongly believe in Dubois’ ability to be a difference-maker, even if point production has been tough to come by.
Dubois has gone 22 games since scoring two goals against the Ottawa Senators on April 5, notching seven assists during that span.
He’s been promoted to the Jets’ top line, which provides Dubois with a big opportunity to potentially make his mark on this series against the team he rooted for growing up.
Dubois has been consistent in his discussions with the media, constantly saying there is another level he would like his game to reach.
That trend continued on Saturday and he reiterated his confidence level hasn’t been shaken, despite dealing with the numerous challenges of this season -- ranging from a contract dispute, a 14-day quarantine and a pair of injuries.
“To be honest I don’t see it as filling in for Mark,” said Dubois. “He’s a fantastic player, he’s his own player. I’m my own player. If I try to play like him, I’m not helping my team, not helping my teammates out. I just see it as doing what I do best, doing what I can to help this team win. It’s been a long season, it’s been a season of ups and downs, but I think I work hard just so that confidence doesn’t go down even if you’re not scoring or doing as much offensively as you want. It’s building blocks here and there, not just results, but also the work that goes into it.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, but at the same time I know when to relax and just go play. There’s nothing you can do to control the surroundings or the circumstances. The only thing you can do is just try to bring your best game to the table.”
When Dubois was asked what he’s doing well when he’s at his best, it’s clear he knows what is required of him.
“A big part of my game is just skating, getting my legs going,” said Dubois. “In the post-season, you don’t have as much room out there, you don’t have as much time and space. For me, it’s just getting to my game of moving out there, creating space for my wingers, creating space for the defencemen, going to the net, trying to attract guys to me and giving time and space for everybody out there with me.
“I don’t like putting numbers on anything, but it’s a process. Confidence comes from putting in the work and knowing that you’re not relying on luck or anything like that. If you put in the work, in practice and watching tape and paying attention to details, your confidence can go up just because of that. Because you know that you’re ready for any moment.”
The moment of truth has arrived for the Jets.
With a win on Sunday, the Jets can get themselves right back into this series, especially with Game 4 coming on Monday night.
With another defeat, the Jets would be pushed to the brink of elimination for the first time of the post-season.
Prior to the sweep of the Oilers, the Jets endured a seven-game losing skid and dropped nine of the final 12 games in the regular season -- so it’s not like they need to search long and hard for a formula for attempting to bounce back.
“With the experience we have in this group, we’re comfortable about going in and playing on the road,” said Lowry. “It’s the belief in our group. We’ve been a pretty solid road team this year. Look at the template of the game (on Friday) night, kind of the success we had in the first round against Edmonton on the road, not really giving up a whole lot of chances, plugging up the neutral zone and things like that.
“We have the depth. They have the last change, so they’re going to be able to get their matchups, but we have the players that are going to be able to play against their top guys, against their top pairings. To be successful, it’s just important that we get off to a good start and that’s what we’re looking to do.”