Mark Scheifele brought some hope with him when he arrived with the Jets at the Winnipeg airport for their Tuesday flight to Las Vegas.
But the team’s top goal-scorer, who left Monday’s 4-2 playoff loss to the Golden Knights with an upper-body injury, still remains a question mark for Thursday’s critical Game 5 with Vegas up 3-1 in the best-of-seven, first-round series.
“I just talked to Mark and he is feeling better than he did (Monday) night, so he’s definitely on the day-to-day (list),” Jets head coach Rick Bowness told reporters at the airport.
“Let’s put him in the hopeful category for Thursday.”
Odds favour the Golden Knights to eliminate the injury-riddled Jets in Nevada’s gambling mecca. Teams that take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven NHL series hold a series record of 299-31.
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Bowness wasn’t bowing to the historical results.
“There’s no choice. We have to be confident. We have to be. And we will be,” he said. “We’ll be a very confident group going into that game.
“We’re going to have a swagger to us that says if we go out, it’s going to be one tough fight. When we play with that attitude, then I like our chances.”
Scheifele, who scored a career-best 42 goals in the regular season and had one in the playoffs, didn’t show any visible signs of injury at the airport. He pulled two rolling suitcases with each hand and had a backpack strap slung over his right shoulder.
The veteran centre had a breakaway about two-and-a-half minutes into the first period of Monday’s game, took a close shot that Vegas goalie Laurent Brossoit stopped, and then got tripped up and crashed into the end boards on his left side.
He got up and continued skating and was on the ice for a Winnipeg power play. After trying to fire a shot, he appeared to immediately clutch his right arm. He skated to the bench and went down the tunnel at 5:11 and didn’t return.
Scheifele was the latest of some key Jets who have been injured as the eighth-seeded club tries to topple the conference’s top team.
Jets all-star defenceman Josh Morrissey suffered a lower-body injury in Game 3 and was ruled out of the rest of the series. The alternate captain travelled with the team to add his expertise and support.
Speedy forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who’s awaiting medical clearance on a late-season upper-body injury that has sidelined him for the four playoff games, will skate with the team and “we’ll see where he is,” Bowness said.
Backup goaltender David Rittich, who missed Monday’s game (lower body), also headed to Nevada. He was replaced in Monday’s game with AHL call-up Arvid Holm, who also made the trip with netminder Oskari Salminen because “you just never know,” Bowman said.
Rookie forward Cole Perfetti has been out for months and wasn’t expected to play in the first round, but he also joined the team. He’s been skating wearing a no-contact jersey.
Before boarding the flight, Jets starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck told reporters it’s been tough to watch so many “heart-and-soul guys” get hit by injuries.
“We haven’t had good luck so far,” the former Vézina Trophy winner said. “We’ve been playing pretty good though, despite all of our adversity.
“Now we have to make sure our heads are right and know we’re in for the grind and we’re not out yet.”
Hellebuyck took it as a good sign that the Jets did win the first game in Vegas 5-1.
“At this point, you just take it one game at a time,” he said. “We don’t need three. We need one and we’ll go from there.
“I like our team. I like how we’re playing. A bounce here, a bounce there and things can go well.”
He was also confident about the way he’s manning the crease.
“With how my game’s been and how I feel, I would not expect the results to be the way they are,” Hellebuyck said. “That being said, we’re inches away from really flipping the script on this.”
PLAYING THE ODDS
Brett Howden, who scored Vegas’s first goal and last one into an empty net in Monday’s victory, liked his team’s odds to win the series in the desert but didn’t view them as a sure bet.
“We know where we’re at, but we don’t want to just rely on that, rely on the odds,” Howden, a product of Oakbank, Man., said after notching his first playoff goals.
“We know what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to put in the work. It’s going to be a really big game. Obviously, that’s going to be the hardest one to win so we’re going to be dialed in and ready to go.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2023.
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