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BILLECK: Scheifele, Connor clicking at right time

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The Colorado Avalanche will have a big problem on their hands if Mark Scheifele is given an inch, allowing Kyle Connor to take a mile.

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Go back and watch Winnipeg’s 1-0 goal on Tuesday night in their eventual 4-3 win over the Seattle Kraken.

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Scheifele gets the puck below the goal line, and within milliseconds, he threads a pass to Connor, who is sitting on the doorstep.

Seattle blue-liner Adam Larsson could only shake his head.

“He does that in his sleep,” Connor said of Scheifele’s wizardry.

Later in the period, Scheifele was at it again, this time feeding a puck up high to Josh Morrissey, who picked out Connor all alone on the same doorstep to make it 2-1.

Winnipeg’s top line had a great game against the Kraken. They’ve been playing pretty well lately, and this has really solidified the team’s lineup heading into its first-round series against the Avs.

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Granted, Cale Makar, Samuel Girard and Devon Toews will offer a stiffer defensive test. But if Scheifele and Connor are feeling it like the former did in 2017-18 and the latter against Edmonton in the sweep a few seasons ago, look out.

Scheifele’s line was moving in their win on Tuesday, something Connor said post-game is a staple when the line is successful.

“First time you get the puck, you gotta get those feet moving, those quick strides,” the team leader with 34 goals said. “It takes everybody being on the same page, all as a unit.

“If one guy’s not doing their job, it slows everybody down. And you see in our neutral zone, when we press teams and two forwards on that forecheck, we turn a lot of pucks over and we get the player with the puck in the middle.”

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It’s sort of how Connor scored his first of the game.

But it’s the work they’re doing in that neutral zone that’s making the difference.

“We’re not getting hung up (there),” Connor said. “Just being a little more mature for us and, I think that’s created a lot more offence in their zone.”

A few weeks back, head coach Rick Bowness was being asked why he was still trying to make Connor and Scheifele work.

They had Nikolaj Ehlers there, ready to sub in and fix the line’s defensive woes. But since Ehlers has found a great home on the left side of Sean Monahan’s line, returning to the Connor-Scheifele tandem has worked.

It’s come with Winnipeg’s return to form as a team. Go figure that players like Scheifele and Connor would eventually have to lead that charge.

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They have, and the team has won seven straight.

“It’s a little easier now to see it for themselves because we’ve been doing that for two years,” Bowness said. “It’s a little bit easier to recognize and, again, they have to buy in and they’ve done that.”

Bowness is seeing Connor skating at both ends of the ice.

He’s engaged again.

“I know he’s scoring goals and creating things, but watch how hard he comes back,” Bowness said. When you see that in your player, you know that you’re totally engaged, and he’s an elite offensive player. When he’s engaged in the game, he’s going to get those opportunities, and he’s going to bury them.”

Next week, heading into a best-of-seven series with the 2022 champs will require those backchecks and that buy-in.

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The headline on Tuesday was that Winnipeg clinched second place in the division and home-ice advantage against the Avs.

But the biggest news over the past week or so has been the Jets finding their groove, from their first line to their fourth, on the eve of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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• Of course, the Jets will want to eliminate the sort of shift they endured in the second period against Seattle. They gave up a 2-on-1 that Connor Hellebuyck bailed them out of before giving up a 2-on-0 where Hellebuyck didn’t stand a chance. Bowness summed it up rather bluntly, as he often does. “The second period was all terrible puck management,” he said. “It had nothing to do with structure. It was puck management, all of it. (The players) recognized that, too. We’re feeding their transition, we’re giving them opportunities, we let them get back in the game with our puck possession, our puck management. That’s really the biggest issue we had in the second period.”

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• After blowing their 3-1 lead in the second, the Jets returned to a much better game in the third. They allowed four Grade-As against over the first and second periods, but with the game deadlocked, they only allowed one in the third and limited Seattle to just three shots 5-on-5. A Jets team that can handle those moments in tight games is a must in the playoffs and something they did so well in the first half of the season.

The Jets have three goals to give in the William M. Jennings Trophy race. Winnipeg has allowed a league-low 197 goals against, with Florida three goals up the road at 200. Florida is done, playing to a 5-2 win over Toronto on Tuesday to wrap up their regular-season schedule. The Jets will win the trophy outright if they can keep Vancouver to two goals or fewer on Thursday. A tie would see both teams split the honour as there is no tiebreaker.

From what I’ve heard, Game 1 of the Jets-Avs first-round series will begin on Monday, with an 8:45 p.m. CT start time. The game will follow Game 2 of the Toronto-Boston first-round series in the East. Don’t shoot the messenger.

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