The Winnipeg Jets gathered at Bell MTS Place on Wednesday for the first official day of work following their eye-opening four-game ouster of the Edmonton Oilers. The round-one series of the Stanley Cup playoffs ended with a 4-3 triple-overtime victory that stretched into the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
And while head coach Paul Maurice could understand entirely why Connor McDavid and company were dubbed the series favourites by many, defenseman Dylan DeMelo says there was a certain measure of satisfaction in defying the experts.
“We heard that outside noise and we thought that we could ruin some people’s playoff pools,” admitted DeMelo who paired up with Josh Morrissey to perform very effectively against McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for most of the series.
“We just played hard — we were both really assertive in our play. We knew the matchup was coming and didn’t shy down from it.”
Maurice said all the elements were there for his team to be considered the underdog.
“When you finish ahead of us in the standings and you’ve got two players that are so unusual and so dynamic, it’s an understandable prediction,” explained the veteran bench boss. But he also felt Edmonton’s 7-2 record against his team, which included six straight wins to close out the regular-season series, needed to be put into perspective because of the closeness of many of those outcomes.
“So what we needed to do wasn’t to dominate a series — we needed to change it by a goal. Get one more, and that’s all you need to do over a seven-game series. That’s kinda how the whole thing played out. So you get to carry that with you.
“We’re not coming to the rink thinking we just dominated the Edmonton Oilers. We just came and scratched and clawed to be one goal better and found a way to do it,” Maurice described in a post-series summation.
Valuable jack-of-all-trades forward Andrew Copp was a member of the last Winnipeg team to advance to round two in 2018 during the run to the Western Conference Final. He says he feels there was certainly a different expectation of him and his teammates going into this year’s post-season. “This time I think we were doubted a little bit more along the way,” said Copp following a day dedicated to the gym and off-ice maintenance. “But I think the belief in our room was still very high. A lot of belief in each other to the type of game we could play and get to.”
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And while DeMelo referred to the pre-series outside noise being heard in the room, Copp didn’t feel it was much of a motivating factor. “I don’t think it’s anything you use. I don’t know if it’s a talking point too much in the room. It kinda goes without saying, everyone obviously pays attention to what’s going on. Whether it’s watching other games or whatever — you see picks being made going into a series and saw the Oilers logo a lot more than you saw the Jets logo.”
Copp says he and his teammates might have developed a bit of a chip on their collective shoulders as a result of being “discounted” by the experts but doesn’t feel that played any kind of a role in the Jets wanting it more than Edmonton.
Instead, DeMelo credits the leadership group of the team, who he says did an amazing job of keeping everyone together and believing during a late-season 1-9 slide. “Many people were writing us off and saying we were no good. Our leadership group made sure we believed in ourselves, believed in what we were doing,” said DeMelo who has been getting a little more sleep since the playoffs began, with his wife and 4 1/2-month-old son back home in London, Ont., to spend quality time with both sets of first-time grandparents. “But I would trade that to be with him any day of the week. I miss him a lot and Facetime him a lot.”
The Jets will spend the next couple of days just getting back on the ice to maintain their rhythm while awaiting an opponent for round two. And while there is the thought that a Montreal rally from a current 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 6 or Game 7 versus Toronto would be good for Winnipeg, there is also the feeling a four or five-day break between series would also be ideal.
Defenseman Josh Morrissey says that’s not something he or his teammates have any control over, so they’ll adapt accordingly to whatever schedule comes their way. “I was just talking to someone about that yesterday,” said Winnipeg’s 2013 first-round pick who had a tremendous series against the Oilers.
“I remember from a few years ago after the Nashville Game 7 win, staying over in Nashville and flying home the next day. And then playing Game 1 (versus Vegas in the Western Conference Final) the next day. I think it was an afternoon game, so that was a pretty quick turnaround,” recalled Morrissey.
“Other times you have more rest. It all depends on how the other series goes, what the league is looking for. But certainly, after the overtime games, the final game to go to triple overtime, we’ll enjoy our rest. ”