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FIRST ROUND

Laine resurgence key for Jets against Blues in playoffs

Appears back on track entering Game 2 after slump to end regular season

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets may have lost Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, but one bright spot emerged that has them feeling good about their chances in the series: Patrik Laine scored.

The 20-year-old forward, who had one goal in the final 19 regular-season games, had the only goal in the 2-1 loss. Captain Blake Wheeler said that goal, in addition to the fire and spark Laine showed all night, is a good thing going into Game 2 of the best-of-7 series at Bell MTS Place on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVAS, FS-MW).

"He's a goal-scorer," Wheeler said. "That's what he gets out of bed to do every day, score goals. And when you're not scoring goals, it's tough. So that was probably the best way the series could have started for us, get him on the board and feeling good."

 

[RELATED: Complete Jets vs. Blues series coverage]

 

Laine, who scored 36 goals in his rookie season of 2016-17, and 44 in 2017-18, scored 30 this season, his final goal coming March 25.

But he gave the Jets the lead in Game 1 with a shot that went off the right post and in at 13:28 of the first period.

The scoring touch he displayed with 18 goals in November -- including five in one game against the Blues on Nov. 24 -- returned.

"It felt good to score, to be honest," said Laine, who had three shots on goal and hit a post playing 17:29 of ice time. "It was a tough way to end the regular season, but it's gone now, and now it's playoff time and it's a whole different chapter. It felt great."

Jets coach Paul Maurice said what has encouraged him most about Laine is not the fire or his goal in Game 1, rather the improvement the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft has made to other areas of his game.

Video: STL@WPG, Gm1: Laine wires home wrister from slot

"His development from start to finish is really, and I get it, how many goals did he score," Maurice said. "But his 5-on-5 game is night-and-day better today than it was four months ago. He's worked at battling and competing. His turnover rate is way down.

"So he's now kind of this big strong kid (6-foot-5, 206 pounds) that can shoot the puck. We're excited that he had one go (in net). His 5-on-5 game now allows him to play with [linemates Andrew] Copp and [Bryan] Little. I'm not really worried about when they get out there. I'm not trying to hide that line anymore, which will push his 5-on-5 minutes up to the right level."

Although Laine is relied upon to be a big part of the Jets' attack, he said he doesn't feel extra pressure to score in the postseason.

"Not much," said Laine, who had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 17 playoff games last season when the Jets reached the Western Conference Final, losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. "I think I'm still a young guy. Obviously I've scored a lot of goals, but we have veteran guys who are expected to score important goals too. I give myself pressure that I've got to score because that's what I do best. I feel like I can help my team to win with those goals. Hopefully I can still do more than [score] those goals."

Laine said it will be important not to let the disappointment from Game 1 carry over into Game 2.

"When you're down one, two or even three games, you're eventually thinking about those things even though you don't want to," he said. "It's just facts that the other team's closer to moving on than you are. But it's only 1-0 and it's probably going to be a long series. For us it is all about the belief. 

"We won the first game against Vegas and lost the next four, so you never know what's going to happen. Columbus beat Washington in their own building twice last year and lost the next four. I think eventually the best team wins. I think we have a good chance if we could just improve last night's game, then we'd have a good chance to move on."

Wheeler said the Jets are not panicking even though they trail in the series.

"Who was the last team to go 16-0 in the playoffs?" Wheeler said. "Has that ever happened. We didn't expect to do that. The playoffs are so much about how you control your emotions. You win a game and all of a sudden you feel like you're going to win the Stanley Cup. You lose a game and you feel you've got no chance. The good teams find a way to manage those emotions."

Perhaps helping the Jets stay calm is the fact they have Laine on their side and he appears to be getting his scoring touch back. 

"I thought he played a great game," Wheeler said. "So the more times we can find that guy putting the puck in the net, the better our team's going to be."

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