The Winnipeg Jets are fully rested and prepared for the well-travelled Montreal Canadiens. Facing off in best-of-seven second round playoff series for the first time, the Jets will battle the Canadiens just three days past the 10-year anniversary of the team returning to Winnipeg. It just so happened that Montreal was the first team that the Jets faced in their inaugural season.
This time, however, the stakes will be a little higher, as the team that first collects four wins will move on to face one of the league’s very best teams in the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights.
In Manitoba, members of the Jets have been off for nearly nine full days, just skating in groups and as a full team in various practices run by different members of the coaching staff. With the Canadiens taking their opening round series all the way to seven games, Winnipeg’s four-game sweep caused the NHL’s schedule makers some extra hassle. But luckily for the Jets, it appears as though the rest was well-received.
“You want to be able to have your starter feel like he’s not tired or worn down or anything like that,” forward Andrew Copp said. We feel really good about Helly getting the rest. Hopefully we make him work hard enough in practice where he stays sharp and is dialled in and ready to go. He’s a huge part of our success.”
Although calling it ‘rest’, it really hasn’t been time off for Winnipeg. But rather, a time to practice and work on preparations for the second round.
“We’ve had more practices in the last week than we had in two straight months of the regular season,” head coach Paul Maurice laughed. “It’s a whole new set of circumstances. You have an opportunity to get healthy and we have. We’ve used that. You want to stay sharp… But from the get-go, nothing has been the same. So that is now normal for us. This is different, no big deal, you get use to it and you move on.”
Now with all the logistics involving the schedule and travel solved, the Jets will see a new opponent on the visitors’ bench, while also seeing fans in attendance at Bell MTS Place for the first time in 450 days.
500 lucky and highly-deserving Manitoban healthcare workers will be selected via lottery as spectators for Game 1 and 2 this week
Must have proof of full-vaccine status
Masks to be worn at all times
Lottery winners will be selected by Noon on Wednesday
Emails going out now
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) June 2, 2021
“It’s the reason we play, really,” goaltender Connor Hellebuyck told local media. “We’re entertainers at the heart of it and getting them excited and having them cheer us on and make us feel like we’re doing something right, it helps and it definitely gives us an energy boost. We all love to play and we all love the game but having someone screaming your name or chanting your team on and winning in front of them and hearing that road, there’s just something special about those moments.”
Announced late Tuesday evening, the Jets will be allowing entrance to 500 lucky and fully-vaccinated healthcare workers for each of Games 1 and 2 this week.
“It’ll be awesome,” Mark Scheifele said following morning skate on Wednesday after the official announcement dropped. “Just any fans in general is awesome. So to get some health-care workers that have been battling so hard through this pandemic, to get them into the first game of Round 2 is pretty awesome. So we’re very, very excited to have them in the building.”
To last see spectators at Bell MTS Place not dressed in suit and tie media garb, one would have to rewind the clocks back to March 9, to which the Jets doubled up the visiting Arizona Coyotes 4-2, before COVID-19 shut the world down.
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In order to allow fans into the building, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin actually had to amend the current public health orders. These changes allow for the 500 fully-vaccinated healthcare workers to attend the home games, as well as family members (vaccinated or not) of Winnipeg Jets players, coaches, management and administration officials.
“As Manitobans make their appointments to get vaccinated, we hope that the sight of fans back in the stands will offer some encouragement of what a return to a more normal life will look like,” True North Sports + Entertainment Chief Operating Officer John Olfert said in a statement. “In the meantime, it is very encouraging to welcome even a small group of fans back to the next two Winnipeg Jets games at Bell MTS Place. We are excited to be able to provide this first fan opportunity as a show of gratitude to those within the healthcare sector who have provided so much support and care to our community throughout the pandemic. These fans will bring an energy to our team that has been greatly missed over the past 15 months.”
Now tasked with slowing down the surging Montreal Canadiens, the Jets will look to continue their winning ways, in hopes of earning their seventh-straight win on a streak that dates back to the final two games of the regular season. Having some local fanatics in the building will certainly go a long way in potential team success.
“That’s gonna be awesome,” Mathieu Perreault said of his excitement level to see family and fans back in the stands Wednesday. “We haven’t had a chance to do that in so long so it’s great to see that we’ll have some fans in the building.”
Puck drop is set for 6:45 PM central time Wednesday evening, following the newly-formatted NHL Draft Lottery which will be held at 6:00 PM.