There was the potential for the Winnipeg Jets to have an opponent, and a second round Stanley Cup playoff schedule finalized by the time they showed up for work on Friday at Bell MTS Place. But thanks to a Nick Suzuki goal just 59 seconds into overtime of Thursday night’s 4-3 win by Montreal in Toronto, there is still no clarity on when the Jets will play again — and who they will play against.
Indifference towards that uncertainty was probably the best way to describe the reaction to that from Head Coach Paul Maurice and his most experienced player, Paul Stastny. The veteran centre more or less shrugged his shoulders when asked how he felt about Montreal extending the series to a game six following a practice that had more of a back to work focus than the day before.
“In the back of our heads we were preparing most likely for Sunday. Now we’re preparing that we might play Monday or Tuesday,” said Stastny. “It’s always nice to have that little break. Watch teams play against each other, beat up on each other.”
And the significance of Saturday’s game at the Bell Centre was not lost on Stastny either. “Now I think more than anything, I’m excited to see fans in Montreal,” said the son of a former Quebec Nordique great in reference to the 2,500 fans that will make up Canada’s first crowd of any kind at a professional sporting event since the start of the pandemic.
“Montreal and Toronto are probably the two most famous franchises in all the NHL. Those fans can be as loud as anyone, and it will be exciting to watch. It’s just one little step closer,” said the overtime hero of game two of Winnipeg’s first round series sweep of Edmonton.
And even though the Jets were able to dispatch of the Oilers in four straight games, Stastny says that series was extremely taxing on him and his team mates. “We basically played four games in four nights if you count all the overtimes. It took us a couple of days to get mentally and physically, kind of freshened up again.”
Maurice says the emphasis will continue to be on “the grind” in preparation for the Leafs or Canadiens. But once a victor is determined from that match up, the focus will switch to resetting the speed element for his players. “The first phase was recovery and I think we finished that on Thursday,” said Maurice via Zoom call from the Matt Frost Media Centre of Bell MTS Place on Friday.
“Until we get an opponent, we will only look at Winnipeg Jets video. And then as soon as that opponent is defined — whether we have a day, two days, or three days to prepare — we’ll bring that back into the room. So slightly more grind until we know when our next game is going to be, and then we won’t be finishing any checks. We’ll be trying to get up and down the ice as fast as we can.”
Interestingly enough, game six between Montreal and Toronto might not even be at the top of the “must watch list” for some players. “We get to watch Champions League soccer on Saturday,” said Stastny with his trademark front toothless grin. “If we were playing on Sunday, we’d have been travelling during the Man City-Chelsea game.”
Stastny is a supporter of city’s arch rival Manchester United, so he’ll definitely be rooting for Chelsea — and the only American player on either side in Christian Pulisic. But Pierre-Luc Dubois — who admittedly has no skin in the game — said he might strike up a friendly wager with line mate Nikolaj Ehlers, who apparently is a big fan of Chelsea. “I might bet against him because I think Man City’s going to win, and I know he’s never going to bet against Chelsea.”
Maurice probably likes to hear and see his players are finding ways and means to escape the playoff pressure, while still relishing the moment. “As you get older you learn to enjoy the special moments more. Go watch a two-year-old’s birthday and watch the grandparents. They’re the happiest people in the room,” said the Jets bench boss, as a prelude to how him and his veteran coaching staff are seizing the day during this post season run.
“So when you get a little older and you spend some time in the game — yeah there’s pressure — but we need to enjoy it. I’m not talking about being casual about it or — hey let’s see who wins tonight, who cares. I’m talking really, truly appreciating the work that went in to get us here,” said Maurice. “The idea that being in the playoffs is special and it has to be enjoyed. Because if it can’t, what the hell is the point of this job? If you can’t enjoy playoff hockey, where do you get the joy from your job? The attention and going out to overtime is fun. It should be exciting for you. So maybe that is what our experience has allowed us to impart that to our players.”