EDMONTON - Finally, it's game day.
A total of 139 days have passed since the Winnipeg Jets took to the ice for game action, but when they suit up for tonight's exhibition game against the Vancouver Canucks, they'll do so in the very same building that they played their last regular season game - Rogers Place.
That game, of course, was back on March 11, when Kyle Connor scored two third period goals to push the Jets to a 4-2 win - and fourth consecutive victory.
Little did they know at the time that would be their final regular season game.
"We were talking on the ice and it felt like you didn't really know what to think or expect," said Blake Wheeler, who had a goal and an assist that night. "It was hard to imagine shutting a season down and coming back to finish it."
The season went on pause about 12 hours later. The last four months have been about negotiating and ratifying a Return to Play plan that both the league and National Hockey League Players' Association could agree on.
Now, after 14 days of practice and two off days since July 13, the Jets get to play in a game.
"I think everyone would tell you that they're pretty sick of practice by now," said Andrew Copp before practice on Tuesday.
"You can only go against the same guys so many days in a row before you kind of get antsy, kind of get anxious to go and play somebody else."
Since training camp began at BellMTS Iceplex, Jets head coach Paul Maurice has kept his lines the exact same.
Those lines looked like this, and they remained the same at morning skate in Edmonton.
The reason for keeping them the same is simple, he said on Monday.
"You don't have any time to experiment right now. Now is not the time," he said. "We don't have seven exhibition games or 82 games. We finished with something I liked."
Hard to argue, that group produced Winnipeg's first four-game win streak of the season. Wheeler, who had six points in that span, said the Jets feel a lot of confident with the depth of their attack right now.
"We had an ability to put any line out in any situation," he said. "When you have four lines that have the ability to chew off some minutes in a game and be effective, it allows everyone from top to bottom to have more energy and make a more meaningful impact in the game."
Prior to the pause, the Jets were set to finish their season series with tonight's opponent - the Vancouver Canucks - on March 15 in Vancouver.
Even without that third match-up, the two teams met twice at Bell MTS Place this season, with the Jets winning both of them with scores of 4-1 and 4-0.
Connor Hellebuyck started both games, and the shutout he recorded in the second one after a 41-save effort gave him the franchise lead in shutouts.
Another Connor also enjoyed playing the Canucks this season - that being forward Kyle Connor.
The speedy forward had multi-point efforts in both outings, recording three points on January 14 in the shutout win and two points on November 8.
Maurice feels for skill players like Connor, tonight's exhibition tilt is critically important.
"They need a game to get back into their right rhythm," said Maurice.
"The more skilled the player we talk about, the more it's going to take time for their hands. The legs will be there, you keep short shifts you'll be able to get through the game. Those hands, these guys need the next three or four days to get ready."
Feeling ready will be paramount as there isn't much time after tonight's exhibition game to get ready for the Qualifying Round.
When the Jets wake up on Thursday, they'll be two days away from a best-of-five tilt with the Calgary Flames - who lost their lone exhibition game 4-1 to the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night.
"It's not game one of the regular season we're going into. It's game one of the playoffs," said Copp. "If we're not ready to go and we haven't done the right things to prepare, we could find ourselves down one or two games very quickly. Playing three (games) in four (days) to start the playoffs is going to be a sprint right off the bat here."
The Winnipeg Jets face the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton in their lone exhibition game before their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Calgary Flames, which begins on Saturday.
The Jets beat the Canucks 4-1 on Nov. 8 and 4-0 on Jan. 14 at Bell MTS Place in the two meetings during the regular season between the two teams.
READ THE GAME NOTES
Kyle Connor led the Jets with a goal and an assist in the first meeting, while Connor Hellebuyck stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced.
In the January game, Hellebuyck made 41 saves for the shutout, while Connor had another multi-point effort with a pair of goals and an assist.
Winnipeg and Vancouver were supposed to face each other on Mar. 15 in Vancouver, but the regular season was paused and eventually cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.