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Jets fired up to face Predators in franchise's first Game 7

Not worried about lack of experience with trip to Western Final on line

by Scott Billeck / Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets won't be packing a lot of experience when they travel for Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday.

Goalie Connor Hellebuyck is in the large contingent of Jets players who have never played in a Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7. The second-year goalie and Vezina Trophy finalist is playing in his first NHL postseason, where every game has offered a new set of learning opportunities.


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Game 7 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS) will be his biggest yet, but Hellebuyck said he's got a good idea of what will be needed for the Jets to advance to the Western Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

"It'll look like a lot of guys are tired, a lot of fatigue out there, which means we're battling, every single shift and every single second," Hellebuyck said Tuesday. "Everybody's giving every single thing they've got."

Video: Breaking down Game 6 between the Predators and Jets

This is the first Game 7 in franchise history for Winnipeg. Four players on the 20-man roster who played Monday in a 4-0 Game 6 loss have played in a Game 7 in their NHL career.

Forward Paul Stastny is 2-1 in Game 7s (two wins with the St. Louis Blues, one loss with the Colorado Avalanche) with five points (two goals, three assists). Forward Mathieu Perreault is 0-2 (Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals). Defenseman Tyler Myers (with the Buffalo Sabres) and forward Blake Wheeler (with the Boston Bruins) are 0-1.

"I think every game is a learning experience," Stastny said. "For players who've been doing this their whole lives, I think the minute you step on the ice, you're in your comfort zone and play your game.

"I think once the puck drops we'll be ready to go on the mental side of it. I think the biggest thing is to just enjoy it."

Perreault said his thought process has narrowed since his first Game 7, a 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers in 2012.

"The first 20 minutes is so important now," Perreault said. "I feel like when I was younger maybe I looked at the bigger picture. I looked at the game coming up. But for us, our first period hasn't been all that good this series. So we've just got to take on that first 20, and make sure we own that and quiet their building and go from there."

Jets coach Paul Maurice is 2-0 in Game 7s, a 3-2 overtime win against the Bruins and a 4-3 win against the New Jersey Devils during the 2009 playoffs with the Carolina Hurricanes.

"There's absolutely a different feel to it, right? Because it's the final game for one team," Maurice said. "So there's a lot of emotion, lots of excitement. But there's definitely a calmness to it. There's a finality coming. It brings out the best, I think.''

Video: Rinne's 34-save shutout forces Game 7 against Jets

Maurice said the Jets have already planned the days leading up to Thursday.

"The pregame speech, in a lot of ways, has already been given," Maurice said. "We've sectioned off our three days. You try to take as many unknowns away from them as possible. We'll fly at the same time. I know what I'm eating tomorrow night. You do as many things in your routine as you possibly can. The guys that have had a few more Christmases will sleep a little bit better. The guys that are closer to 5 years old will be up a little later."

The Jets and Predators have alternated wins in the series and neither team has lost back-to-back games in the playoffs.

Nashville will have history on its side in Game 7: Home teams are 100-70 (.588) record in Game 7 in NHL history. But scoring first could help the Jets turn that edge in their favor. Teams that score first in Game 7 win 74.1 percent of the time (126-44)

Of the active 29 teams to play a Game 7, 14 won their first such appearance, including 10 road victories.


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