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Five reasons Jets clinched playoff berth

by Patrick Williams / Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff preached that patience and prospect development would anchor his management philosophy from his first day on the job in June 2011.

Nearly four years later, Cheveldayoff's patience combined with strong work at this season's NHL Trade Deadline to send the Jets to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The franchise will make its first playoff appearance since 2007, when it played as the Atlanta Thrashers, and Winnipeg fans will see playoff hockey live in their city for the first time since 1996, when the original Jets left the city for Arizona.

Here are five reasons the Jets clinched a playoff berth:

1. Improved depth at forward

Even before Cheveldayoff's work at the trade deadline, Winnipeg's depth had improved. The offseason addition of speedy forward Mathieu Perreault in free agency gave the Jets bona fide top-nine depth and sparked the power play, which had been a significant issue the past two seasons.

Young center Mark Scheifele continued his progress in his second full NHL season, providing Winnipeg with the legitimate No. 2 center that it long had been lacking. Rookie Adam Lowry made the Jets out of training camp and quickly took over a key role centering the third line.

Cheveldayoff went to work at the deadline, adding veteran forwards Drew Stafford, Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak. Stafford clicked with Scheifele and Blake Wheeler on a new line in mid-March and has eight goals in 25 games since arriving from the Buffalo Sabres.

2. Goaltending

Goaltending was an issue for the Jets for several seasons. Ondrej Pavelec had never lived up to the promise that earned him a five-year contract in the summer of 2012. Pavelec teaming with rookie Michael Hutchinson looked like a risk at the start of the season.

After losing the starting job he had held since the 2009-10 season to Hutchinson in February, Pavelec reclaimed it and went 9-2-1 down the stretch to lead the Jets' push to the playoffs. His .920 save percentage is the best of his career; in the final week of the season, Pavelec had three shutouts on a Central Division road trip in which the Jets earned five of a possible six points to clinch a playoff berth.

3. Home ice

After winning 23 of 41 home games in their first season in Winnipeg, the Jets failed to take advantage of MTS Centre's loud, cramped atmosphere for the next two seasons.

This season, the Jets made MTS Centre a tough venue for visiting teams. Their 12-2-2 run on home ice in the second half of the season powered their run to the playoffs and featured key wins against the likes of the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals down the stretch.

The Jets' physical style meshes very well with the loud, rowdy Winnipeg fans and makes MTS Centre a problem for any visiting team.

4. Structure

One of coach Paul Maurice's first tasks after taking over in January 2014 was to retool Winnipeg's systems play. The Jets never had grown comfortable with former coach Claude Noel's system.

Maurice's emphasis on puck possession, speed and physical play matched his players' skill sets. He stressed a commitment to responsible defensive play, but he also allowed his forwards to play a more creative offensive game.

Winnipeg's offensive production increased slightly this season, from 2.67 goals per game last season to 2.69; however, they have reduced their shots-against per game from 30.1 to 28.7 and decreased their goals-against per game from 2.82 to 2.51.

5. Maurice

Maurice inherited a team beset by years of losing and a lack of identity. Along with going to work to rebuild Winnipeg's system and fitness levels, he also began restructuring the mood of his dressing room.

Confident in his system and philosophies, Maurice never panicked after a loss or two, and he never allowed himself to become content during a winning streak. Winnipeg's practices became much more intense, and he drilled his players on defensive play until it became second nature to them.

Maurice set a tone that built a close-knit dressing room that soon mimicked his mindset and welcomed Cheveldayoff's deadline additions for a seamless transition.

Author: Patrick Williams | Correspondent

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