EDMONTON — It’s not often an NHL head coach speaks positively of going through a stretch of nine losses in 10 games as his team approaches the playoffs.
Paul Maurice, however, says the Winnipeg Jets’ end-of-season struggles may have prepared his squad for the challenges of post-season hockey.
The Jets got great goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck, shut down the deadly duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and opened their best-of-seven North Division first round series against Edmonton with a 4-1 win over the Oilers on Wednesday.
Maurice said the Jets entered the series with a “playoff mindset,” because of the adversity the team faced.
“Playoff hockey is just different,” Maurice said Thursday. “The more playoff games your team goes through, the better you understand that.
“So we were a good regular-season team, but hadn’t switched gears into what the playoffs were going to be like. That losing streak gave us an opportunity to focus as a group, to become more of a playoff-style team, and I felt we did that.”
The Jets pulled out of their nosedive in time to win their last two games of the regular season, but Maurice said he saw positive signs from his team before that.
“There were some really good metrics in our game that changed fairly drastically,” Maurice said. “So I felt it was necessary and I felt we had a really good opportunity to benefit from it.”
Part of the Jets’ winning strategy involved cutting down on the breakout opportunities McDavid and Draisaitl feasted on all year. McDavid ran away with this year’s scoring title with 105 points in 56 games and Draisaitl was runner-up, but both were held without a point in Game 1.
Draisaitl said he’s confident the Oilers can manufacture the gritty goals in tight spaces that often win playoff games.
“We’ve got to get to the net a little more and maybe make it a little simpler on ourselves and them just put pucks through and throw them there,” Draisaitl said. “Eventually they’re going to go in, and we’ve done it all year.”