Jets’ top line heats up
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.”
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.