WINNIPEG – With the regular season now officially in the books the Winnipeg Jets have turned all their attention to their first round playoff series with the Minnesota Wild.
It’s less than 48 hours until the Jets’ first playoff game in two long years and both the veterans and the youngsters are trying to soak up every moment.
“We’re enjoying ourselves.” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. “Today was a great day. You come to the rink and typically we’re clearing our lockers out the last few years. Now we’re preparing to play some fun hockey.”
“A lot of good feeling in here, a lot of excitement.” Connor Hellebuyck said. “You can just tell guys are feeling it.”
“For me the playoffs is your Christmas.” head coach Paul Maurice said.
“It’s exciting every day to get to the rink. You’re not worried about making long term points with guys, grinding guys. They’ll bring lots of enthusiasm and energy so you’re just trying to point it and focus it in the right direction.”
In 2015 the Jets were heavy underdogs as they were swept out of the playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks. So the biggest difference this time around are the raised expectations after finishing second overall in the NHL standings.
“I think people expect a little more out of us.” Bryan Little said. “We had a really good year. Before we were scratching and clawing just to get in, and that can be physically and mentally draining.”
The Jets will start the playoffs without Toby Enstrom, Matt Hendricks and Dmitry Kulikov who are all still injured. But they enter the playoffs riding a five game win streak and they won the season series with the Wild three games to one. Two of those Jets’ wins were decided by a single goal and history shows us anything is possible come playoff time.
“There’s no easy match-up, there are no easy team you’re gonna play.” Little said.
“You’ve seen eight seeds make it to the Stanley Cup finals before so it’s all a clean sheet once you’re there.”
And once you’re there, playoff experience can often play a factor. And three of the Jets’ top five scorers and their starting goalie will all be making their Stanley Cup playoffs debut.
“Obviously the stage is big now.” Wheeler said. “I think our guys have played big games, big stages, big moments. This isn’t brand new to anyone. We’ve all had our hearts racing at some point playing hockey.”
“I think it helps a lot when you’ve felt the pressure before and you know how to play in those big games.” Jets forward Patrik Laine said. “For me I’ve won a couple trophies so I know how to play in those big games. But this is a whole different area for me. I haven’t played in the NHL playoffs before. I have no idea what it’s going to be like.”
He’ll find out on Wednesday.