WINNIPEG – Perhaps it was fitting the topic of resilience was on the plate of Paul Maurice in the hours leading up to puck drop.
The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets couldn’t have predicted his high-scoring team would only be able to generate two shots on goal in the third period of a tie game and 19 overall, forced to hang on for dear life, just to get to overtime and to bank the single point that accompanies it.
Maurice couldn’t have known he would have to dig into his bag of tricks to employ the aggressive three-forward approach to start the bonus hockey portion of the evening – a strategy that has now worked perfectly twice after Saturday’s 2-1 overtime triumph over the Canadiens that came 36 seconds into the extra session.
“It’s a guarantee that adversity is coming and it’s a guarantee that stretches of time, whether it’s a period or a game or a week, that’s going to happen to you in the NHL,” Maurice said after the morning skate. “And your ability to have resilient leaders that come in the next day after a tough day and go back to work and not let themselves slip into despair or worse, disbelief in the fact that you can win. That would be the intangible that I think I value the most.”
Instead of lamenting an off night, the Jets could take a deep breath, knowing they had found a way to win when they clearly weren’t at their best.
That’s ultimately what building resilience is all about.
“You’ve got to go through a little bit of adversity. You’ve got to fail a little bit and you’ve got to realize what it feels like to lose and to lose tight games or big games,” said Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was an essential piece in the process, turning aside 40 of 41 shots on goal that he faced. “You’ve got to remember how bad it feels and maybe that gives you a little boost and a little bit of extra energy when you really need it.”
Although he didn’t reference the specifics in his statement, it seemed clear that part of what Hellebuyck was referencing were the two earlier losses the Jets suffered in the final 10 seconds of regulation time.
Those are the types of heartbreaking moments that can lead to self-doubt if you let them linger.
But that’s not something the Jets have allowed to happen with regularity.
Instead, they’ve made a habit of being able to rally and to put deficits behind them – winning six times when trailing after one period.
That’s a testament to the Jets depth up front and offensive flair, but there is also a correlation to the belief the Jets have in their masked men.
“There’s a lot of confidence in our room,” said Jets centre Andrew Copp. “Like the other night, we’re down two but we feel like we can score on any given shift. I think we have a lot of confidence in our offensive game and are able to come back and a lot of confidence in our goaltender to keep us in it, not let that lead get to three or four. On any given night it can kind of be any line and we’ve kind of proved that over the course of the season so far.”
The only shot to sneak past Hellebuyck on Saturday night was a sharp-angle special, a bank job from behind the goal line by Nick Suzuki.
For many teams that don’t employ a Vezina-calibre netminder, it was the type of marker that can be deflating or even back-breaking.
The kind of goal that potentially opens the floodgates.
For Hellebuyck, it merely heightened his focus.
“It was one of those goals that you could do that 99 out of 100 times and it’s not going to go in,” said Hellebuyck. “I got caught on the one, which seems to be a theme this year, but I felt good in the game and just followed it up on the save to add momentum to me.”
This isn’t a one-off either.
Hellebuyck has built enough of a reservoir of resources to lean on in this department, not allowing a single moment to knock him off track.
“There’s a sense though, in our room, that when Connor gives up a goal like he did, you’re going to have a really, really hard time getting the next one,” said Maurice. “There’s a faith in our goaltender.”
That faith is well-founded and it’s an important part of the Jets success, as they won for a fourth consecutive and improved to 13-6-1 through 20 games of this 56-game schedule.
The Jets aren’t a finished product and they aren’t without flaws as they approach the midway point.
They also aren’t letting the pack run away from them either, they’re actually beginning to create a bit of separation.
At a time that was supposed to start providing a few clues about where the Jets actually stand in the North Division, they’ve found a way to take some important steps forward as they prepare for a two-game set with the Vancouver Canucks on Monday and Tuesday to round out this four-game homestand.
The Jets are tied for third in goals for per game (3.55), eighth in goals against (2.60 goals against per game) and boast a goal differential of plus-16, good for third in the NHL and behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning (plus-30) and Toronto Maple Leafs (plus-23).
Building blocks are being put down and this group is learning how to win – which isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds.
Especially on a night when the Jets were clearly not clicking on all cylinders against a desperate Canadiens team that made a coaching change earlier this week.
“You’re going to have games like that,” said Jets centre Paul Stastny, who delivered the OT winner on Saturday. “When things aren’t going your way, you’ve just got to find a way. Whether you get a point or two points, sometimes you grind those wins out or sometimes you grind those overtime points out, and (Saturday) was a perfect example of that.”