By Darrin Bauming, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – For a young team, the Winnipeg Jets showed a resiliency and ability to adjust this regular season worthy of a veteran squad.
Those qualities are being put to the test again early in the playoffs.
Mathieu Perreault suffered an upper-body injury Wednesday night in the Jets’ first post-season win in franchise history, a 3-2 comeback win over Minnesota to open their Western Conference quarterfinal with the Wild.
As they have done all season, the Jets will turn to their youth and depth for a potential replacement for Perreault, who is a game-time decision for Game 2 on Friday.
“We’ve been through that all year. The lineup hasn’t been quite full,” said forward Bryan Little, who began Wednesday’s game centring Perreault’s line alongside Joel Armia. “We’re kind of used to shuffling the deck a little bit. Guys have stepped up when we needed them too, and that’s going too happen in the playoffs.
“It’s nice to have a talented group where we can get a guy into the lineup and he’s a player right away.”
The Jets likely look towards rookie Jack Roslovic. The 21-year-old suited up in 31 games this season, totalling five goals and 14 points while spending time on the top unit as well as on the fourth line.
“I think we want him to use his speed and kind of fill-in for Matty (Perreault),” added Little. “I think he can play that game. He’s got a lot of energy and he’s got skill to make plays in their end. It’s not too much of a transition there.”
Dealing with an adjusted lineup has become the norm for the Jets. Losing key contributors such as Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, and Tobias Enstrom for long stretches failed to slow them as they finished with the NHL’s second-best regular season record at 52-20-10.
Whether it be injury or in-game adversity, staying within their game speaks to the team’s conviction and mental fortitude.
“Those close games, we’re confident that our offence can score goals when we need them to, especially if we’re down a goal,” said Little. “We all have that feeling on the bench that the game is still ours. When we’d get down a goal in a tight game before, we just felt like there was that pressure to score and that pressure to get back in the game. We didn’t have that confidence we do now.”
“It’s hard top put a finger on it. We’ve been that way all year,” Little added. “Even when we lost key guys to injuries we didn’t lose that edge. We didn’t get away from our game. I think we have that depth that we’ve never had before. We can roll four lines now pretty easily so we don’t have to worry about matchups.”
Despite youth and the lack of much playoff experience, the Jets are finding direction and guidance in their captain Blake Wheeler.
“(He’s) a perfect mentor for any young player,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “Leadership is much about consistency, being consistent in how you play and how you treat the people around you. He’s been that way every day regardless of what’s going on around him.”
“It’s a credit to our leadership. You look at what Blake does every night, he drives the ship for us,” added forward Adam Lowry. “I think it’s sometimes you don’t know any better and don’t have that experience, you don’t have that fear of what could go wrong. You’re kind of just going out there to play and sometimes that’s a benefit for our team as well.”