Jets’ top line heats up

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - SPORTS - KEN WIEBE

The days of be­ing a one-line hockey team are well into the rearview mir­ror for the Win­nipeg Jets.

Depth and balance have be­come more than just buzz­words, these days it’s a crit­i­cal com­po­nent for the Jets, who take a 3-2 se­ries lead over the Nashville Preda­tors into Mon­day evening’s puck drop at Bell MTS Place in Win­nipeg.

“It has been all year. It’s what’s given us suc­cess all year,” Jets cap­tain Blake Wheeler said on Sun­day be­fore his team re­turned to Win­nipeg. “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 where one line car­ried us and then the next night the next line car­ries us. 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.”

While the Jets are not re­liant on the trio of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Wheeler to have suc­cess to win games, there are plenty of time when that line is driv­ing the bus.

Satur­day was one of those nights.

Af­ter a first pe­riod that saw the Preda­tors carry the ma­jor­ity of the play and gen­er­ate the bulk of the scor­ing chances, it was the Scheifele line that help swing the mo­men­tum in the game af­ter the score was 1-1.

Rookie left-winger Kyle Connor scored his first of two goals 82 sec­onds af­ter Preda­tors de­fence­man Yan­nick We­ber had tied the game.

Af­ter Ryan Jo­hansen scored a short­handed marker with 2:01 left in the sec­ond pe­riod to cut the Jets lead to two goals, it was Connor who sup­plied an­other high­light-reel mo­ment to re­store the cush­ion.

Show­ing a great deal of con­fi­dence, Connor walked around Jo­hansen, slip­ping the puck be­tween his own skates be­fore find­ing Scheifele alone in front for a one-timer just 38 sec­onds into the third pe­riod.

Game. Set. Match.

By the time the fi­nal buzzer had sounded, the Jets first line had com­bined for three goals and eight points, in­clud­ing three helpers from Wheeler.

The Jets cap­tain made a point of reit­er­at­ing dur­ing his post-game ad­dress that he never had any con­cerns about the fact Connor hadn’t scored a goal in his first nine Stan­ley Cup play­off games.

Wheeler is fond of say­ing the daily goal of that line is to have an im­pact on the hockey game, whether they fig­ure promi­nently on the score­sheet or not.

It’s hard to imag­ine a big­ger con­tri­bu­tion in a more im­por­tant game than the 6-2 vic­tory in Game 5.

Scheifele’s ninth goal of the play­offs was the dag­ger and he’s rel­ish­ing the op­por­tu­nity to shine in his sec­ond taste of the Stan­ley Cup play­offs.

Al­though things are still in­cred­i­bly early, Scheifele finds him­self in early con­sid­er­a­tion for the Conn Smythe Tro­phy (were it to be handed out af­ter two rounds and not four).

Connor may have been over­looked in the Calder Tro­phy dis­cus­sion, but he hasn’t been over­whelmed by the stage, even if it took him longer than most ex­pected it would to score his first goals of the post-sea­son.

As for Wheeler, he continues to show why he was the Jets most valu­able player dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son — with all due re­spect to the goal­tend­ing of Connor Hellebuyck.

Never mind the ca­reer­high 91 points Wheeler pro­duced or the fact he tied for the NHL lead in as­sists with Philadel­phia Fly­ers for­ward Claude Giroux (68), Wheeler had to shift to cen­tre when Scheifele missed 18 games with a sus­pected shoul­der in­jury.

Wheeler has led the Jets on and off the ice and his lead­er­ship is one of the rea­sons the Jets are up 3-2 in this se­ries.

Even on the days when things aren’t go­ing quite as smoothly on the of­fen­sive side of things (like in Game 3), Wheeler’s will and de­ter­mi­na­tion has been on dis­play and his abil­ity to push through and make a con­tri­bu­tion has been ev­i­dent through­out the play­offs.

“It’s kind of the pass­ing of the of­fen­sive ba­ton,” said Jets head coach Paul Mau­rice. “You’re not scor­ing 12 goals in a game, so you need who­ever’s turn it is to step up and feel good about that.”

MARK HUMPHREY/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Win­nipeg Jets’ left-winger Kyle Connor scores against the Nashville Preda­tors dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod of Game 5 in Nashville. The Jets’ top line of Connor, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele com­bined for eight points in the 6-2 Win­nipeg win.

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