It was not an entirely perfect execution of the game plan for the Winnipeg Jets in their 4-1 victory over Edmonton Wednesday night to open the best of seven Scotia North Division Semifinal. But star goalie Connor Hellebuyck was able to negate all but one of the few mistakes that were made in front of him to provide him and his team mates with an early series lead.
As for creating momentum for Game Two on Friday Night at 8 p.m. CT? That would just be an eight letter word according to Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny during Thursday’s optional skate at Rogers Place.
“We’ve done a good job of kinda turning the page today,” said the veteran center. That’s what you have to do in the playoffs. You enjoy the wins. You get p—-d off with the losses. Next day you come to work and you realize what do you gotta adjust, what do you gotta fix.”
Stastny is expecting the Oilers to come at them with even greater determination on Friday Night, so the Jets will have to be prepared for that. And Head Coach Paul Maurice feels the next game will certainly be played with a little more pace.
“We would have an expectation that the game would look different from them,” explained Maurice. “And that is true in all playoff series, the team that wins Game One is coming to the rink feeling really good. The team that loses Game One has an even greater sense of focus on the game and they have, in some ways, an advantage in that. We have to be aware this game will be quite a bit faster tomorrow than it was.”
And while the Oilers wouldn’t be happy about the final result, it’s not like Head Coach Dave Tippett and his staff feel a complete overhaul is necessary to get back on even footing before the series shifts to Winnipeg and Bell MTS Place on Sunday (6:30pmCT) and Monday (8:45pm).
“It was a tight game. It was a playoff game — space is tight. You get pucks at the net. We had a lot of attempts around the net, but not enough clean ones,” was Tippett’s response to the NHL’s seventh most productive offense during the regular season being held to just one goal in the opener despite outshooting their opponents 33-22 while finishing with a 65-37 advantage in shot attempts.
“There was parts of our game we liked. There are parts that can be better.”
One area neither team will need to address from Game One was discipline. An errant high stick by Jets centre Paul Stastny on Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto late in the second period was the only penalty of any kind called by referees Graham Skilliter and Kevin Pollock in a game where the stats crew credited Winnipeg with 68 hits and Edmonton with 50.
The Jets probably wouldn’t mind if there was a repeat of that for at least the next game with the status of Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois still in question — even though the coach says both skated again on Thursday at Rogers Place. And Maurice says it would be beyond receiving medical clearance for Dubois to be in the lineup for Game Two.
“It’s a comfort level, he’s been off the ice for a little while,” said Maurice. “I don’t think it’s necessarily conditioning. These guys don’t lose their conditioning in that short a period of time.
“But I’d have to feel he could play at a very high level and if he gets clearance, we’re probably only talking about a couple more days then of just getting back on the ice. Getting hard skates and getting ready.”
Goalie Mike Smith and defenceman Ethan Bear took maintenance days for the Oilers according to Tippett, who hinted him and his coaching staff might be leaning towards having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl spend even more time playing on the same line than they did in Wednesday’s loss when the dynamic duo was held off the scoresheet by the Jets for the first time this season.
“We’ll see, we’ll go through it with the staff and see where we’re at.”