Winnipeg, MB -- Compared to the noise in MTS Centre immediately following the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 shootout win over St. Louis on Thursday, the loud music coming from the weight room Friday morning was barely noticeable.
After beating the Blues for the first time this season, the Jets were pretty calm today. But Coach Paul Maurice says it’s not the first time this season players have been on the quiet side following a win.
“After the game in Nashville and Tampa, if you would have been on the bus with us going to the airplane you would have thought we had lost. It's just quiet. They spend a lot during their games, today is a recovery day,” Maurice said.
“Today we've got a job to do, there's no need for an over amount of excitement in the room today. We'll save that for tomorrow.”
The job to get done today for most players was an off-ice workout. Seven skaters did take to the ice, including Mathieu Perreault and Ben Chiarot (in non-contact jerseys) who continue to work their way back from injury.
But don’t mistake the even keel temperament for lack of excitement. Mark Stuart, who played 22:05 in last night’s win, says there is plenty of excitement.
“This time of year is the best and it's only going to get better if we get to the playoffs. This is what you look forward to, these big games,” Stuart said. “It's been fun but we're just trying to stay even keel here, and we need to keep getting points. It doesn't get any easier.”
It certainly doesn’t. With 11 games to go in the regular season, nine of the opponents the Jets will face hold a playoff spot as of this morning. One of those teams is the Washington Capitals, who the Jets play on Saturday night in the next ‘biggest game of the season.’
“We've gone in with a pretty good understanding, and part of it is that the players out of our line up drive a fair amount of offence for our team, our best opportunity to win is to limit the other team as much as we possibly can,” Maurice said.
“It's not a change, because we're not talking about sitting back to do that. The opposite is true. We're so much better when we're aggressive defensively. You have to be against Washington with their shooters.”
One of those shooters is Alex Ovechkin, who continues to pace the league scoring race with 47 goals and 73 points. He scored once and added an assist in the last meeting between the two clubs back on February 19 in Washington.
“That was just a tough night there,” Stuart said of the 5-1 loss. “They bring a lot of offence. Special teams is so important again, especially against a team like this. We didn't feel like we played our best game in their building, we're looking forward to rectifying that tomorrow night.”
The game will also feature two teams on three-game win streaks. The Jets find themselves in the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference thanks to wins over St.Louis, San Jose, and Tampa Bay. On the offensive side of things, they can also thank the line of Drew Stafford, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler, who have scored six of the team’s eight goals in those wins.
“All three of us have the wheels to make things happen out there,” Stafford said. “Blake is known for that speed. Scheifele is a great skater in his own right. When we are moving our feet, when we are skating, and creating plays off the rush and also below the dots, we can definitely be dangerous.”
Scheifele agrees, adding that he and Wheeler have chemistry that dates back to last season.
“To keep up with him I think I sometimes kick it into another gear when I play with him,” Scheifele said. “Just the player he is, the amount of skill he has, the way he sees the ice. He's obviously awesome to play with, and I always enjoy when he's on my wing.”
For now, the Jets are happy taking things day by day. But Stuart is loving every second of the playoff race.
“We're in the hunt right now. It's so much fun. There's nothing better than spring time coming and you’re in the hunt. I haven't been in the playoffs in four years, but there's nothing better than playoff hockey,” he said. “If we play our system, and we play the way we know how, we can beat anybody in the league. That's a nice feeling going into games.”
That kind of confidence from one of his alternate captains is what Maurice likes to see. He prefers that to the cliché of ‘playing desperate.’
“I understand the word desperate. I never thought it accurately described what you needed to do when you're in the high-pressure games,” he said. “I'd rather them play confident and hard than desperate. Feel good about the game you're playing, play it absolutely as hard as you can, and leave it all out there. Desperate always sounds like you're chasing something. And before that puck drops, you shouldn't be chasing the game.”
The Winnipeg Jets chase for a playoff spot continues Saturday night at 6 pm central time against the Capitals.