ST. PAUL., Minn. — Connor Hellebuyck took his time removing his equipment following the Winnipeg Jets’ optional practice Monday, talking and laughing with fellow goaltenders Steve Mason and Jamie Phillips.
Hellebuyck, a third-year pro with no previous playoff experience, wasn’t showing any negative signs about being pulled from the Jets’ 6-2 post-season loss to the Minnesota Wild. And don’t expect any panic desperation or frustration from Winnipeg when it resumes the best-of-seven, opening-round series Tuesday night.
“It’s just the drive we have in this room,” defenceman Ben Chiarot said. “No one likes losing but in this room we take it very seriously, especially come playoff time.
“We’ll come out hot in Game 4.”
Despite its youth. Winnipeg showed a knack for bouncing back quickly this season. The Jets, who entered the postseason with 11 wins in their final 12 regular-season games, last experienced consecutive losses March 13-15 and have lost back-to-back games just three times since January.
“They have a real clear idea of what their game looks like when it’s right, and the ability to get back to it quickly,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You could see it from the bench and you clearly could see it from upstairs, that wasn’t the way we play when we’re at our best.
“So, we have a real clean understanding of what it is we do well and what we need to have happen. So, we can get back to it pretty quickly. The foundation is pretty well set.”
Since Maurice turned to Hellebuyck heavily in November when Mason dealt with an injury, Hellebuyck has lost consecutive starts just five times.
However, this is the playoffs, where even the slightest miscues get amplified. But that doesn’t mean the 24-year-old Hellebuyck is feeling any pressure.
“I wouldn’t say there’s much of a difference, really,” Hellebuyck said. “I put these kinds of games behind me no matter when they happen.
“I guess in playoffs you can be more happy because it’s a series, it’s not a one-game basis. So, I guess it’s a bit easier to put it behind me, but I’m more happy I’m still feeling good on the ice and I’m looking forward to our next game.”
Hellebuyck won his first two career Stanley Cup playoff games while stopping 34 of the 37 shots he faced in the opening two contests.
“Bucky’s one of the strongest goalies, mentally, that I’ve ever played with,” Chiarot said. “Not much bothers him.
“He’s a pretty laid-back guy. Six go by him, I don’t think he’s thinking about it too much. He’ll be ready for Game 4. He’ll be the same goalie we’ve seen all year.”
Just like the Jets believe they’ll be the same team that bounced back all season.
Winnipeg controlled the first two games, holding a decided 84-37 edge in shots before the Wild climbed back into the series Sunday night. The Jets flew into Minnesota earlier Sunday after being rerouted because of snow Saturday.
The Jets didn’t make excuses. But a comment by Maurice on Monday demonstrated the difference between the first two games of the series and Sunday’s loss and why Winnipeg might be able to find its legs Tuesday night.
“The foundation of our game is there’s a certain of speed that has to be involved and we didn’t skate particularly well (Sunday) night,” Maurice said. “It’s the disease of slowness and that’s what cost us the game.”
The Jets have plenty of reasons to be motivated and quicker Tuesday. Adding fuel to the fire could be their feeling about Marcus Foligno’s hit on defenceman Tyler Myers.
Myers didn’t practise Monday and Maurice wouldn’t offer an update on his status.
Foligno was trying to block a Myers pass when his momentum took him into the defenceman. As Foligno was going down, he grabbed Myers’ left arm near the boards and brought the Jets player to the ice.
Myers remained down for some time before being helped off. Foligno said he had no ill intent on the play and denied suggestions he punched Myers’ knee during the collision.
“No, honestly I did not punch his knee,” Foligno said of the interaction with his former Buffalo Sabres teammate. “I’ve looked at it 100 times, too, and my stick’s in my hand and I think I’m trying to grab whatever I can before going down.
“No, there was no punching motion. I’m sure a lot of Winnipeg fans are saying that but no I’m not trying to hurt someone out there, especially a good friend like Myers.”
Foligno won’t face any league discipline which didn’t sit well with Maurice.
“You know what, there are very clear guidelines as to my opinions, so I would disagree with the decision,” Maurice said.
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