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By his lofty standards, Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine had a difficult season — scoring 30 goals and registering 50 points, which were career lows.
What is his level of his confidence heading into Wednesday’s Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues?
“Well, based on my goal scoring it’s obviously not that high, but playoffs are different,” Laine said when asked the question Tuesday. “It’s all about the winning. It doesn’t matter who scores. At least if somebody’s scoring that’s good for us.”
The Blues, who axed head coach Mike Yeo in November and sat in last place overall at mid-season, are a formidable foe.
St. Louis is favoured by some to win the series.
“I think they just wanted to play better hockey,” said Laine. “Nobody wants to be the last team in the league and I think they thought the same way and now they’ve been playing good hockey. It’s not a coincidence that they’re in the playoffs now. One of the hottest teams since January so it’ll be a good challenge for us and it’s going to be a good series for sure.”
Nathan Beaulieu has done everything and more to gain the admiration and trust of his head coach.
He just isn’t Josh Morrissey.
Beaulieu is out, while Morrissey is in Wednesday and will be reunited with defence partner Jacob Trouba as the Jets open the 2019 post-season against the Blues.
Beaulieu, 26, was acquired at the trade deadline from the Buffalo Sabres and played 18 games alongside Trouba while Morrissey was sidelined with a shoulder injury for about six weeks.
Beaulieu will join fellow defencemen Sami Niku, Joe Morrow and Bodgan Kiselevich, forward Matt Hendricks and goalie Eric Comrie in the press box for Game 1.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Beaulieu finds himself a healthy scratch through no fault of his own.
“I’ve liked his work, for sure, and it’s not easy because his play didn’t warrant it. But Josh Morrissey’s play warrants him being in the lineup and you’ve got to make those kinds of decisions,” said Maurice, who is content to keep the duos of Dmitry Kulikov and Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien intact. “I’ve liked the pairings and the consistency of the other two groupings.
“(Beaulieu’s) been really good. He’s been a good find for us, for sure.”
Winnipeg plays Game 1 with its optimal top-six defensive group for the first time since late December, which should breathe some life into a squad that hasn’t been anywhere near its best in more than a month.
“Your expectation (is) that everyone plays the way they’re capable of playing. Those two guys — I don’t know how you want to rank them on our team, Josh plays against the other teams’ best and Buff’s a force — having them back in the lineup makes you as good as you can be,” said Maurice.
Jets winger Brandon Tanev won’t play because of a hand injury and is listed as day-to-day. He’ll be replaced by Par Lindholm on a line with centre Adam Lowry and winger Jack Roslovic.
Veteran blue-liner Byfuglien was asked how much having Winnipeg’s top six defenders in the lineup will mean.
“It definitely helps,” said Byfuglien. “Our confidence in everything goes up a little higher. The team has done a great job all year with whoever has been in and out of the lineup. In the first period, everybody is going to be jacked and ready to go on both teams.
“After that, the game will get settled down. It will be a fast-paced game and you’ve got to take it one shift at a time.”
Blues right-winger Vladimir Tarasenko admits the real joy of playing in the NHL comes during the Stanley Cup playoffs. After he and his St. Louis teammates missed out on the chase a year ago, he’s jacked to be back in it.
“It’s fun games coming up,” Tarasenko told reporters in St. Louis. The Blues practised at home Tuesday before flying north to the Manitoba capital late in the afternoon. “When you clinch the playoffs before the regular season is over, you’re still waiting for it to really end. It’s the hardest time of the year but the most exciting, too. I’m really excited for the game (Wednesday).”
The 27-year-old Russian scored 33 goals in 2018-19, his fifth straight season with at least 30 tallies. In seven NHL season — all with the Blues — he has thrived in the post-season, with 22 goals in 44 games.
But in 2016-17 — the last time the Blues played in the post-season — he had only three goals in 11 games.
The last couple times, I’m not really happy with what I do in the playoffs, especially in conference semifinals, finals. I can do more there. But this is in the past, too,” said Tarasenko, who expects to have his time and space limited by the Mark Scheifele line and the checking of centre Adam Lowry’s forward unit.
“It’s fun to play when other team pays more attention to your line and it’s fun to beat their coverage and get the goals. These are a lot of responsibilities and just to have must-win games, it’s always nice to play in those.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).