(Reuters) - The Winnipeg Jets had a weekend to savor their maiden playoff series win but are back to work as they prepare for a colossal second-round match-up that will pit the National Hockey League’s two best teams against each other.
The Jets enjoyed an impressive opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs as they needed only five games to eliminate the Minnesota Wild from the best-of-seven series and are refusing to let any complacency set in.
“Obviously, it feels good. We put a lot of hard work into it, but now we’re here for the long term,” said Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. “We want to win a Stanley Cup and we’re going to continue to build our games until the very end.”
Next up for the Jets is a clash with a Nashville Predators team that reached last year’s Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and returned this season to post the NHL’s best record.
The Jets, who finished in second place just three points behind Nashville, practised on Sunday for the first time since eliminating Minnesota on Friday and spoke about the keys to the success they have enjoyed this season.
“Our team has been phenomenal this year. We’ve played such a good team defense,” said Hellebuyck, who capped the opening round with two consecutive shutouts.
“You can see the trust on the ice. You can see the defensemen, when they trust me to have the shot and they take the back door. And when we have that trust in each other, it makes everyone so much better at their job.”
Winnipeg’s previous playoff appearance was in 2015 when they were swept by Anaheim. The franchise had moved from Atlanta in 2011 after a 12-year stint during which their only playoff series ended in a four-game sweep in 2007.
Having already put together the best season in franchise history by a significant margin, the Jets are now hoping their size, depth, speed and goaltending will carry them even further.
They will face a stern test in a second round match-up that has the look of a conference final and could put a premium on scoring. Hellebuyck and Nashville counterpart Pekka Rinne are both finalists for the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goalie.
The Predators, for their part, know exactly what they are in for when the best-of-seven series begins later this week and what they need to do to succeed.
“They’ve got size. They’ve got skill. They’ve got speed,” Nashville forward Austin Watson said after his team’s series-clinching win over Colorado on Sunday. “(We must) Get our rest and get prepared.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris