With just one regular-season game to play, the Winnipeg Jets say their focus is purely on getting themselves ready for next Wednesday’s playoff series opener in Edmonton.
But that doesn’t mean there is a lack of motivation to enjoy their first winning streak in almost a month when they close out their 56-game schedule Friday night at home to Toronto.
The last time the Jets enjoyed back-to-back wins was April 14-15 when they beat the Senators 3-2 in Ottawa and followed up with an impressive 5-2 victory against the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.
So fresh off a 5-0 rout of Vancouver on Tuesday night that offered a reprieve from a 1-9 skid in the previous 10 games, the Jets are trying to take a balanced approach to an otherwise “big picture” meaningless encounter against Toronto.
“I think probably for both teams it’s about trying to get your game tuned-up for the next one which is when it really matters,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey responded when asked about the mindset going into Friday’s game.
“Of course you want to play well against them, you need to be ready and stuff like that, but it’s one last tune-up really for the playoffs and we’re going to bring a game that we can really use against Edmonton.”
The Jets will be decided underdogs for that series which opens next Wednesday at Rogers Place (6 p.m. pregame/8 p.m. faceoff on 680 CJOB.) It’s all the more reason for Winnipeg to re-enforce some of the things they have been trying to improve on — with varying degrees of success — over the previous 55 games.
“We’re not going into the game to lose,” said center Adam Lowry who will be without linemate Andrew Copp. Copp will be getting the night off to fully recuperate for next week according to head coach Paul Maurice.
Lowry says he understands completely why avoiding any injuries and viewing the process as being more important than the end result would also factor in as necessary elements in that 10th and final meeting versus the Leafs.
“You can argue both sides of that,” reasoned Lowry. “At the end of the day, we’re playing Edmonton, we know we’re going to start on the road, so we’d like to finish on a good note, string together a couple of wins — feeling good at home before we head to Edmonton.”
The last time Toronto and Winnipeg met on April 24, it wasn’t exactly a game without emotion. There were multiple confrontations between Nikolaj Ehlers and Joe Thornton — that resulted in Ehlers suffering a suspected shoulder injury that has sidelined him ever since. But that wasn’t the only instance where bad feelings were exchanged when the Leafs improved to 4-0 this season at Bell MTS Place.
Kyle Connor, not exactly a noted pugilist, dropped his gloves in a minor altercation with Rasmus Sandin after the Toronto defenseman threw a reverse check that caught Jets captain Blake Wheeler high. Two nights earlier Lowry took a hit to the head and neck area from Alex Galchenyuk that would cause him to miss a total of four games. Pierre-Luc Dubous and Wayne Simmonds exchanged pleasantries in front of the team benches.
But Jets coach Paul Maurice says he’s not anticipating a carryover, because of what’s ahead for both sides.
“So you want to go into the game with a couple of ideas that you want to be really good at. I think there’s going to be a lot of puck movement — it’ll be a fast game,” predicted the Winnipeg bench boss. “But I think you’ll find most guys running fairly short routes in terms of finishing checks. There’s almost a gentleman’s agreement. I don’t think you’re going to see any late hits –there’ll be a certain amount of respect on the ice.”
Maurice says other than possibly Ehlers, he expects every player to be available for Wednesday’s opener. And with the potential for seven games in 12 days, fresh bodies will very likely be needed at some point. “You just don’t see back-to-back games in the playoffs very often,” said Maurice in reference to games three and four being played in Winnipeg on Sunday, May 23 and Monday, May 24. “You would prefer that you keep your opponent on the road for another day. But I guess that’s what happens when you don’t win home-ice advantage.”
Lowry, who will likely see a lot of Connor McDavid, and/or Leon Draisaitl during the series, feels it’s just a continuation of sorts from the regular season when there were a lot of games, and not a whole lot of days off. “Usually there’s not a lot of practice time in the playoffs anyway,” said one of the NHL’s premier shutdown centers.
“We’ll get right into the series, you’ll get a couple of games underway quickly. We’re really looking forward to battling the Oilers. It’s kinda what we played for all year, is to get to the playoffs.”