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Round 2

Jets look to close out Predators in Game 6

Maurice counting on talent, Winnipeg crowd to advance to Western Final

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- Paul Maurice says he's never coached a more skilled team.

Or done it in front of such a hockey-crazed audience.

Given those two factors, the Winnipeg Jets coach is hoping for a perfect storm for Game 6 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Nashville Predators at Bell MTS Place on Monday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). A victory would give the Jets a 4-2 win in the series and advance them to a conference final for the first time.


[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Jets series coverage]


Maurice has coached 1,447 regular-season NHL games, accruing a record of 648-589-99 with the Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes. His deepest postseason run came in 2002 when the Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Final before losing in five games to the Detroit Red Wings.

"I've been fortunate to coach some teams that I thought had pretty good men," Maurice said Sunday. "We got pretty good men here too, but the talent level on this team wouldn't be close to anything I've coached."

The talent was on display in the Jets' 6-2 victory in Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday. Winnipeg scored three goals in a 4:31 span of the second period to break a 1-1 tie and cruised to victory from there.

To Maurice's point: Forward Kyle Connor, 21, who led all NHL rookies in goals in the regular season (31), had yet to score in the playoffs entering Game 5. That changed Saturday when he scored twice, had one assist and was named the game's First Star.

Video: WPG@NSH, Gm5: Connor nets own rebound in front

Such offensive depth has played havoc with the normally defensive-stingy Predators, who have allowed 22 goals through the first five games of the series.

"It's been that way all year," captain Blake Wheeler said. "It's what's given us success all year. It hasn't been one line or a couple of guys. Typically, it's been balanced throughout the lineup in our wins. There have been nights were one line carried us and then the next night the next line carries us.

"I think if you're going to have a good team and good runs in the playoffs, you have to spread the wealth and you have to have guys step up, and we've had that all year."

Maurice said there will be no sense of overconfidence inside the Winnipeg locker room. The opponent is too good for that to happen.

"There's no uncontested ice," Maurice said. "So when they're playing their game and we're playing ours it's almost identical in terms of attitude without the puck. You don't move the puck easily, so frustration then for both teams is built right into the style of play. That's how both team had the seasons that they did. They didn't give any ice, they're hard to play against.

"That's the line, they're hard to play against. So both teams have that same game.''

Video: NSH@WPG, Gm4: Laine wires home wrister for PPG

Though the Jets are trying to approach the game as just a job at hand, Maurice knows the frenzy over his team going on in Winnipeg is reaching new heights.

With the temperature estimated to be around 80 degrees at puck drop, close to 20,000 people are expected to attend the street party being held outside the arena on Monday.

"I don't know if they can yell louder," Maurice said. "I don't know what the cap is on that, we all have a threshold. But there can be more, right? There's just going to be more and more people. That's, for me, why playoffs are fun for coaches.

"The most enjoyable piece is before the game starts, we got video feeds in the coach's offices where you get the view of the crowd outside. When you drive to the rink and back, there's the flags and people wearing sweaters. There's a great big party going on there in Winnipeg, kind of outside our room. It's fun to watch.''

The anticipation of Game 6 already was building in the streets Sunday.

"You look outside today and at least every second person walking around is wearing some kind of Jets jersey or merchandise," Andrew Paterson, radio host on TSN-1290 Winnipeg, said Sunday. "People are anticipating that Monday will be the type of euphoric moment, both on ice and off, that we've never seen here before. It's going to be bananas."

Video: Connor's three-point night leads Jets to Game 5 win

Paterson hosted a viewing party for listeners at a Winnipeg eatery one block from the arena Saturday.

"When the Jets scored those three goals in a row in the second, people started singing and breaking out into chants of 'Go Jets Go!' It was nuts," Paterson said.

Wheeler said he's been mobbed going to the grocery store since the playoffs began. He expects the hype from the fans to keep escalating.

"Yeah, these things build and it's going to continue building," Wheeler said. "We expect that.

"I answered the question earlier in the series, too. It's not our celebration, it's for the people of Winnipeg. They've been with us every step of the way through this journey, and good on them for enjoying every moment. That's what they should be doing.

"This is for them."



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