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Jets will rise or flame out together

Sense of community in locker room heading into must-win Game 4

Jets forwards Nikolaj Ehlers, Mathieu Perreault and Cody Eakin, from left, celebrate a goal against the Flames during Tuesday’s Game 4 loss. (Jason Franson / The Canadian Press files)</p></p>

Jets forwards Nikolaj Ehlers, Mathieu Perreault and Cody Eakin, from left, celebrate a goal against the Flames during Tuesday’s Game 4 loss. (Jason Franson / The Canadian Press files)

EDMONTON — They couldn’t bring the Whiteout with them inside the NHL bubble. But with their backs against the wall, the Winnipeg Jets believe the blue-collar mentality of the city they represent could actually help them extend their playoff series against the Calgary Flames.

Just listen to veteran forward Cody Eakin, who was born and raised in River City but only joined the Jets in late February following a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights.

"There’s a little piece of Winnipeg in everyone that translates to our game," Eakin said during Wednesday’s media session in Edmonton. "These guys had gone through a lot this season before I got here. They’re relentless. It’s fun to be a part of the struggle and the success. With the leadership, it starts there and the coaching staff. Guys with the right mentality when things are going tough. It filters down through everyone and leans on each other and you work your way through it."

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Eakin may just be on to something as his club tries to stave off elimination on Thursday night. Winnipeg trails the best-of-five qualifying round series 2-1.

"There’s a sense of community in Winnipeg that I haven’t felt in any other place. You kind of carry that with you. As a family, the thing we enjoy most about Winnipeg is the people. There’s a little bit of handling adversity in Winnipeg, because man, it gets cold in the winter. So you get used to some tough days, and everybody in the city is going through it, so you’re all kind of in it together," said Maurice.

"You get together as a group, this group will have its back against the wall, so there’s that sense of community in the room, there’s that togetherness that you need. You need each other in this game. We need to play as a five-man block and a five-man group going up and down the ice. Having that sense of community, that sense of togetherness is critical."

Of course, killing a penalty or two, scoring a couple of power-play goals and getting contributions from your best players will also go a long way in determining whether the Jets can force a winner-take-all Game 5 on Saturday. So, too, would getting back any number of injured players including Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Mathieu Perreault and Mason Appleton. None of them took part in an optional team skate Wednesday, and Maurice couldn’t say if any might be available.

"This is all medical now. It’s driven by them. If we get a guy on the ice, obviously he’s a lot closer to playing but I won’t have that knowledge of the situation until (Thursday)," said Maurice.

The Jets held a team meeting that included plenty of video session after playing three games in four days to start what was hoped to be a lengthy playoff run, but could be over in the blink of an eye.

"Just rest and recharge. We’re planning to win the next one. Get your sleep, get your energy, your food, your recovery, get a little bit of movement today and be ready to give it all you’ve got (Thursday)," Eakin said of the mindset.

"We’ve kind of got the blue-collar approach here. I think guys have stepped in and played real well. Nobody is feeling sorry for us and we’re certainly not feeling sorry for ourselves. Our intention is a big win tomorrow and just focus on the job in front of us."

Maurice has coached plenty of elimination games over the years with mixed results. There was the notorious Game 7 victory in Nashville to take that second-round series in 2018, but there was also a terrible Game 5 performance last spring in St. Louis that ended the Jets’ season.

"You can’t go into the game with a fear of being eliminated. You can’t carry that. It’s still the game of hockey, the puck drops and all the important things to help you win or cost you games will still be true. What you’d like to do, in any Game 7 or any elimination game, is to play without that fear, and not carry it in," said Maurice.

"So mentally free yourself up, give yourself a chance to be as good a team as you can be, and almost play with — looseness isn’t the right word, because it makes you think of casualness — it’s play without fear, and that can drive you. Sometimes the team whose back is against the wall has that extra bit of motivation and that extra bit of jump in their step."

If Perreault can’t go after getting injured during Game 3, the Jets will turn to either rookie David Gustafsson or veteran Mark Letestu to fill the void. That would mean using 16 of the 17 forwards on their post-season roster, in less than a week of competition.

"There was a thought that if you were in a physical series that you could have to use the whole roster, and we’ve worked those extra guys hard. While they weren’t necessarily on the ice with the main group, they had a good, good skate (Wednesday). So they’re ready to go, We’re hoping there’s an advantage that if we have to put another forward in there will be fresh legs on that forward and he’ll be able to help us with that," said Maurice.

DODGING A BULLET — Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman was sporting a nasty welt on his right cheek Wednesday, but was thankful to still have all his teeth after taking a puck to the face in Tuesday night’s game against the Flames.

Poolman said his thoughts quickly turned to teammate Bryan Little, who suffered a season-ending injury in November in similar fashion.

"I went down to try to get a block and the guy held onto it a little longer so I slid right into the path. When I got hit, you kind of think about Bryan and it could have been. So, I feel pretty lucky," said Poolman, who left a large trail of blood on the ice during the second-period incident.

"I just had a good cut to my cheek, lucked out. I got all my teeth still and the X-rays showed up negative for everything in that area. I feel pretty lucky with that. I got a handful of stitches keeping it all together here. But all things considered, pretty good."

Poolman returned to the game to start the third period, wearing a full bubble to protect his face. As for eating, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge for the next few days.

"I came back (Tuesday) night and the staff here I think had some sympathy and offered some smoothies. So I had a couple (Tuesday) night, a couple (Wednesday) and mixed in some eggs and some oatmeal. So, it’s been good," he said.

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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