AT THE MORNING SKATE
WINNIPEG – The storm is here.
Nineteen years after it last made an appearance, playoff hockey is officially back in Winnipeg.
Jets. Ducks. Buckle up.
“It’s a great day for the people of Winnipeg,” Blake Wheeler said after the morning skate. “For us, as players, we’re more focused on the task tonight, but it’s a day of celebration for our community and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
The anticipation is palpable.
While the Jets trail the Anaheim Ducks 2-0 in their best-of-seven opening-round series, tonight’s game at MTS Centre is the one fans have been waiting for since the NHL returned back in 2011. And as Jets forward Bryan Little explains, that bond – that unremitting passion – is collectively shared.
“It’s not only out on the streets, it’s in this dressing room, too,” the top-line pivot said of the energy in the city. “We’re excited to be here and we want to win. I don’t think anyone is satisfied with just making the playoffs. You want to do something and you want to compete for something. That’s what we’re playing for. We’re playing to win.”
Little adds that before a typical regular-season contest, the players can hear the perpetual growl from below. What’s already considered to be one of, if not the loudest buildings in the National Hockey League, will once again raise the bar.
“Right before we’re about to go out before the game, it’s always loud [in the locker room],” Little said. “You can feel it. It’s like the building is rumbling.
“People have been waiting for this moment for a while.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Here in Winnipeg, there’s a great connection between the fans of the Jets and their team. … Our goal is to give our fans as many opportunities as possible to get that building lit up. We want to experience all of it. The building, that excitement – we need it. They’re not going to need a reason (to cheer) at the start, but we’re going to have to give them a reason at some point tonight to keep them going.”
As exciting a night as it promises to be, the game is a critical one for the Jets. Win and it’s a brand new series heading into Game 4. Lose and you’re on the brink of elimination than a week into the post-season.
2-0 series holes are certainly not insurmountable. Just last year, the Ducks won both games at home in their first-round series against the Dallas Stars before dropping Games 3 and 4 on the road. And in the case of the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, they fell behind 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks before battling back to win their opening-round set in seven. At the end of the day, it all comes down to taking care of business at home, which is part of the confidence the Jets are drawing from heading into a pivotal Game 3.
“This is what we do. We’ve made things hard all year, so this is the position we expect to be in,” Wheeler quipped in his post-practice availability.
“I think there are some areas we can improve on. I don’t think we’ve necessarily played our two best games yet, but coming home, we expect to have our best game tonight and we’ll see where that
“We are going to need to get above the ledger 5-on-5,” Maurice said of the scoring chances generated by the team’s top-line players. “On the positive side of that, especially given where the special teams race is right now, we will be looking for things– not only from those players, but also our whole group – to increase the general offence of our team.”
There will be no changes to the lineup tonight.
In goal, the matchup will stay the same as well. Ondrej Pavelec, who had a sensational, 37-save outing in Game 2, will go up against Frederik Andersen.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com